The history of Valentine’s Day is a mysterious one. Saint Valentine’s Day contains vestiges of both Christian and pagan-Roman tradition.
The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine, all of whom were martyred. One legend says that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. Claudius ordered Valentine to be put to death when his actions were discovered.
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Despite that extreme sacrifice, the first testimony (in the form of a poem) that actually links Saint Valentine to romance and lovers dates back to 1415, and it was written by Charles, Duke of Orleans. That Valentine poem is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.
Legend or factual happenings, we have learned to associate Saint Valentine with a romantic figure and made him the patron saint of lovers.
In Italy, there is more than the lovers’ celebration because Valentine is the patron saint of many villages. Therefore, on February 14th, many communities celebrate with festivals and processions. Let’s find out what some of these traditions are.
Terni, in the Lazio region, and Bussolengo, near Verona, both have big celebrations for the main saint of their towns.
In Sadali, on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, Valentine is the patron saint of all newlyweds; however, they celebrate in October and they carry on for 2 or 3 days.
In Quero, in the province of Bolzano (in the northeast), they celebrate in a very peculiar way: they bless a massive amount of oranges that are then tossed down a slope near the church of Saint Valentine. It is a “good luck” tradition.
In Palmoli, in the region of Abruzzo, they cover the floor of the church with bay leaves, while in Padua, in the region of Veneto, they celebrate the love of family and children by distributing blessed keys – a symbolism for family love - during a celebration. The patron saint is asked to protect kids from illness.
San Valentino is also patron saint of Vico del Gargano, in the region of Puglia, in the province of Foggia. On February 14th, the town is decorated with thousands of oranges. The statue of the saint is also decorated with oranges. A slow procession with the statue and relics of the saint takes place on the streets of Vico, while on one of the main strips a trade fair takes place with artisanal products and many local delicacies to taste and buy. Did you think that food was going to be left out?
Drinking the juice of the blessed oranges brings joy and happiness; a magic elixir indeed!
In Pozzoleone, near Vicenza, they organize the San Valentino fair, one of the biggest events of its kind that allegedly dates back to the 1500’s.
And then, there is the hilltop village of San Valentino Citerione in Abruzzo. The name of the town was changed from Castel di Pietra to San Valentino when the remains of the saint were discovered there during the Norman period.
As you can see, this martyr-saint is sanctified in many places and in many different ways. Oranges seem to be a common theme and many times we find them decorating villages and statues. By the way, in Italy, flowers from the orange tree mean lucky brides and happy weddings.
So, now you can impress your lover with your newfound knowledge of Valentine’s day in Italy. But, don’t forget the chocolate and the Valentine card!