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Latin Book Club — Legenda Aurea | What Happened To Saint Valentine?

This article has been reviewed in accordance with our editorial policy.


The 14th of Feb­ru­ary has for more than half a mil­len­nia been asso­ci­at­ed with love. But the day we call Saint Valentine’s is rather a com­mem­o­ra­tion of the death of a mar­tyr. Today, we are read­ing Jacobus de Vor­agine’s chap­ter on Saint Valen­tine in our Latin video Book Club.

Saint Valen­tine, or Valenti­nus in Latin, was a Roman saint, 3rd cen­tu­ry a martyr. 

There are sev­er­al vitae ­– biogra­phies – writ­ten about him, and there are numer­ous sto­ries con­nect­ed with him. He was a priest, or a bish­op, or nei­ther. You see, there might have been three Saint Valen­tines. All three, how­ev­er, tra­di­tion­al­ly suf­fered mar­tyr­dom on the 14th of Feb­ru­ary. (and the offi­cial list of Saints only rec­og­nizes that there is one Saint Valentine).

As men­tioned, there are sev­er­al Vitae Valen­ti­ni. Today, the one we will read comes from one of the most famous and pop­u­lar hagio­graph­i­cal works of his­to­ry: Leg­en­da Aurea

Leg­en­da Aurea, or Leg­en­da Sanc­to­rum, known to the Anglo-Sax­on speak­ing world as the Gold­en Leg­end, is a com­pi­la­tion of Saints’ lives, writ­ten by Jacobus de Vor­agine dur­ing the mid 13th century. 

Jacobus de Vor­agine, or Varagine as ear­ly sources call him (or Gia­co­mo de Varaz­za as his Ital­ian name would be), was the arch­bish­op of Gen­ua and a dili­gent writer who not only com­posed Leg­en­da Aurea but a col­lec­tion of Ser­mons and the His­to­ry of Genua. 

His Leg­en­da Aurea became exceed­ing­ly pop­u­lar and wide­ly read in Europe dur­ing the late Mid­dle Ages. When print­ing took off in the mid­dle of the 15th cen­tu­ry, the Gold­en Leg­end was soon pub­lished across Europe, not only in its orig­i­nal Latin but trans­la­tions in Cata­lan, French, Ital­ian, Czech, Ger­man, and Eng­lish fol­lowed suit. It soon became one of the most print­ed books of the time. 

The brief account of Saint Valen­tine as found in Leg­en­da Aurea focus on the end of his life. 

Video in Latin

You can down­load a PDF and the Audio here: Get a down­load­able audiofile of this episode and a print-friend­ly PDF of the text and trans­la­tion: Latin Book Club: St. Valen­tine, Leg­en­da Aurea.

Audio only

Lis­ten in your pod­cast app or here on

More Saint Valentine?

If you just can’t get enough of Valen­tine or if you are curi­ous about what oth­er leg­ends are told about him, you will find more in the Latin learn­ing app Leg­en­tibus. There you will find the book Tres Vitae Sanc­ti Valen­ti­ni with three Vitae about Valen­tine in Latin. 

You will also find Sanc­tus Valenti­nus a Novel­la /Story in Easy Latin for Begin­ners writ­ten by our own Daniel Pet­ters­son. This sto­ry is based on the vitae con­nect­ed to Saint Valen­tine, but writ­ten with Latin learn­ing begin­ners in mind. The book is a so-called Read-Along which means you will get both audio and text com­bined (along with an Eng­lish trans­la­tion and notes on the text). The book is a free resource, open for everyone.

You will find Leg­en­tibus here.

Latin Text: De Sancto Valentino, Legenda Aurea Jacobi de Voragine

‘Valenti­nus’ dic­i­tur qua­si ‘val­orem tenens’, hoc est, in sanc­ti­tate per­se­ver­ans. Vel dic­i­tur ‘Valenti­nus’, qua­si ‘valens tyro’, id est, miles Christi. Miles dic­i­tur valens, qui nun­quam cecid­it, for­titer fer­it, se valen­ter defendit, poten­ter vincit. Sic Valenti­nus non ces­sit mar­tir­i­um vitan­do, per­cus­sit idol­o­la­tri­am evac­uan­do, defendit fidem com­mu­nien­do, vic­it patiendo.

Valenti­nus rev­eren­dus pres­byter fuit, quem Claudius imper­a­tor ad se adduci faciens inter­ro­gav­it dicens: “quid est Valen­tine? Cur amici­tia nos­tra non frueris, ut Deos nos­tros adores et super­sti­tionem tuae abji­cias van­i­tatis?” Cui Valenti­nus: “Si gra­ti­am Dei scires, ista nequaquam diceres, sed ab ido­l­is ani­mum revo­cares et Deum, qui est in caelis, adorares.” 

Tunc quidam, qui Clau­dio adsta­bat, dix­it: “Quid vis dicere, Valen­tine, de sanc­ti­tate Deo­rum nos­tro­rum?” Cui Valenti­nus: “Ego de iis nil dico, nisi quod fuerunt homines mis­eri et omni immundi­tia pleni. Ad quem Claudius: “Si Chris­tus verus Deus est, cur mihi non dicis, quod verum est?” Cui Valenti­nus: “Vere Chris­tus solus est Deus, in quem si cre­dideris, ani­ma tua salv­abitur, respub­li­ca augebitur, omni­um inim­i­co­rum tibi vic­to­ria concedetur.” 

Respon­dens autem Claudius adstan­tibus dix­it: “Viri Romani, audite, quam sapi­en­ter et recte homo loquitur iste.” Tunc dix­it prae­fec­tus: “Seduc­tus est imper­a­tor! Quo­mo­do desere­mus, quod ab infan­tia tenuimus?”

Et tunc cor Claudii immu­ta­tum est. Tra­di­tur autem cuidam prin­cipi in cus­to­di­am et, cum in domum ejus duc­tus fuis­set, dix­it: “Domine Jesu Christe, verum lumen, illu­mi­na domum istam, ut te verum Deum cognoscant.” Cui prae­fec­tus: “Miror te dicen­tem, quod Chris­tus est lumen. Equi­dem, si fil­iam meam, diu cae­cam, illu­mi­naver­it, faci­am, quae­cumque prae­ceperis.” Tunc Valenti­nus orans, ejus fil­iam cae­cam illu­mi­nav­it et omnes de domu sua convertit.

Tunc imper­a­tor Valentinum decol­lari prae­cepit cir­ca annum domi­ni CCLXXX.

English Translation: The Life Of S. Valentine, The Golden Legend

Valen­tine is as much to say as con­tain­ing val­our that is per­se­ver­ant in great holi­ness. Valen­tine is said also as a valiant knight, for he was a right noble knight of God, and the knight is said valiant that fleeth not, and smiteth and defend­eth valiant­ly and over­cometh much puis­sant­ly. And so S. Valen­tine with­drew him not from his mar­tyr­dom in flee­ing, he smote in destroy­ing the idols, he defend­ed the faith, he over­came in suffering.

Of S. Valen­tine the Martyr.

S. Valen­tine, friend of our Lord and priest of great author­i­ty, was at Rome. It happed that Claudius the emper­or made him to come before him and said to him in demand­ing: What thing is that which I have heard of thee, Valen­tine? Why wilt thou not abide in our ami­ty, and wor­ship the idols and renounce the vain opin­ion of thy cre­ance? S. Valen­tine answered him: If thou hadst very knowl­edge of the grace of Jesu Christ thou shouldest not say this that thou sayest, but shouldest reny the idols and wor­ship very God. Then said to S. Valen­tine a prince which was of the coun­cil of the emper­or: What wilt thou say of our gods and of their holy life? And S. Valen­tine answered: I say none oth­er thing of them but that they were men mor­tal and mechant and full of all ordure and evil. Then said Claudius the emper­or: If Jesu Christ be God ver­i­ly, where­fore sayst thou not the truth? And S. Valen­tine said: Cer­tain­ly Jesu Christ is only very God, and if thou believe in him, ver­i­ly thy soul shall be saved, thy realm shall mul­ti­ply, and he shall give to thee always vic­to­ry of thine ene­mies. Then Claudius turned him unto all them that were there, and said to them: Lords, Romans, hear ye how wise­ly and rea­son­ably this man speaketh? Anon the provost of the city said: The emper­or is deceived and betrayed, how may we leave that which we have hold­en and been accus­tomed to hold sith our infan­cy? With these words, the emper­or turned and changed his courage, and S. Valen­tine was deliv­ered in the keep­ing of the provost.

When S. Valen­tine was brought in an house in prison, then he prayed to God, say­ing: Lord Jesu Christ very God, which art very light, enlu­mine this house in such wise that they that dwell there­in may know thee to be very God. And the provost said: I mar­vel me that thou sayest that thy God is very light, and nev­er­the­less, if he may make my daugh­ter to hear and see, which long time hath been blind, I shall do all that thou com­man­d­est me, and shall believe in thy God. S. Valen­tine anon put him in prayers, and by his prayers the daugh­ter of the provost received again her sight, and anon all they of the the house were con­vert­ed. After, the emper­or did do smite off the head of S. Valen­tine, the year of our Lord two hun­dred and eighty. Then let us pray to S. Valen­tine that he get us par­don of our sins. Amen.

Trans­lat­ed by William Cax­ton, First Edi­tion 1483 and edit­ed by F.S. Ellis, 1900.

Amelie Rosengren

Amelie Rosengren

Amelie Rosengren, M.A. and co-founder of Latinitium, is a published author, illustrator and historian. She specializes in daily life, has a soft spot for historic curiosities, and works as a museum educator at the world’s oldest open air museum, Skansen.
Written by Amelie Rosengren

Written by Amelie Rosengren

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