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St. Valentine(s) and other heavenly hosts

Illustration By John Clark, Deseret News

His name is synonymous with love. Or should we say "their names"?

St. Valentine — whether a single individual or several — joins St. Patrick and St. Nicholas as the three religious saints whose names are most ingrained in the public mind, thanks to their associations with popular secular holidays.

While most standard calendars denote Feb. 14 as the celebration of St. Valentine's Day — commonly simplified as Valentines Day — the liturgical celebration has long been removed from the Roman Catholic calendar because of uncertainties and scarcity of information regarding the man.

Or were there a bunch of St. Valentines?

While St. Valentine can't be found on the General Roman Calendar, hundreds of other saints are there, aligned with associated feasts and commemorations.

In general, many religions see saints as holy men and women who led exemplary lives. Some churches use the "saint" title for those who had a direct relationship with Jesus Christ or who are mentioned in the Bible. Western (Roman Catholic) and Eastern Orthodox communions give the title "saint" an extended designation. They are holy souls who not only led exemplary lives, but also can serve as intercessors before God since they are deemed to already be in heaven.

Saints receive their status through beatification and canonization — processes that formally began in the 10th century and have been updated as recently as 2008.

Beatification requires proof of a miracle attributed to the intercession of one such individual who has since died; this is adequate enough for local veneration for a candidate, who then is labeled beatified or blessed.

However, universal recognition of a saint requires the lengthy canonization process by the Holy See.

The saint is an intercessor, not a mediator, and the worshipper can still pursue a direct approach to God.

The total number of Catholic saints hasn't been documented — some estimates suggest more than 10,000 over the centuries. That's why most dates on the Catholic calendars are associated with multiple saints.

The Eastern Orthodox Church shares some of the same saints from before its split with Rome — for example, Feb. 14 on calendars for both spotlight Sts. Cyril and Methodius, the 9th-century missionary brothers and patron saints of Europe and the Slavs who are credited with the development of the Cyrillic alphabet.

The Eastern Orthodox Church has added many of its own Saints since the split, as have the Anglican and Episcopalian faiths. The latter two don't go through a formal canonization processes for its own series of saints (both traditional and modern), martyrs and heroes. The two faiths also allow calendar commemorations on a local or regional basis, rather than church-wide.

The phrase "patron saint" describes how certain Catholic saints are associated with geographic areas (cities, regions or countries), diseases, trades or life situations.

There are saints for accountants (St. Matthew), archeologists (St. Helen), and architects (St. Thomas the Apostle), as well as for Boy Scouts (St. George) and brewers (St. Luke and St. Augustine of Hippo). Also covered are ear aches (St. Polycarp) and headaches (St. Teresa of Avila), television (St. Claire) and the Internet (St. Isidore of Seville).

Catholics may also have a personal or family saint, often associated with given names or names taken at confirmation.

As for St. Valentine and the day bearing that name, the ancient Roman fertility festival called Lupercalia was held in mid-February, when young women put their written names in an urn. Young men drew out names to identify a companion for that year.

According to medieval beliefs, mid-February was also when birds chose their mates.

At the close of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I revamped the pagan festival into a Christian feast. No longer was the Roman god Lupercus honored but rather St. Valentine. And the names drawn instead were saints to be emulated during the coming year.

Over the centuries, there were many St. Valentines — as many as a half-dozen. One was a priest who aided Christians during the Roman Empire during Claudius II's reign who was imprisoned and later beheaded in the year 269 on Feb. 14; another was a Catholic bishop of Temi who was similarly beheaded during the same reign.

Due to scant information, unclear histories and overall confusion, St. Valentine's Day was dropped in 1969 from the Roman calendar of official feasts, although some local parishes continue to observe a feast of St. Valentine.

But the name and date live on in secular celebrations.

e-mail: taylor@desnews.com