By Kelly Wise Valdes
The month of February is often closely associated with the story of St. Valentine. History tells us that St. Valentine himself was the first bishop in the city of Terni, Italy and was a martyr for his beliefs in the third century A.D. The Basilica of San Valentino is a historic and sacred cathedral located just outside the town center of Terni on the site of an early Christian cemetery where St. Valentine was buried.
In 742, the church was the site of a historic meeting between the Pope and the King, both who believed that the remains of St. Valentine may have been buried under the church and held miraculous powers. Then for the next several centuries, the Basilica was nearly destroyed when the city of Terni, experienced raids, looting and destruction.
In 1605, the search for the body of St. Valentine began. The excavations were promoted by Pope Paul V as part of the revitalized interest in the first martyrs of the Church. The basilica had been in a state of ruin but the interest in St. Valentine gave birth to its reconstruction and eventually led to a successful finding of his relics. The construction was for a simple building with a single nave that would house the altar containing the body of St. Valentine. Built just above the tomb of the martyr is a painting dating from the seventeenth century that celebrates the martyrdom of the saint.
The saint’s custom of promoting love is associated with a number of legends. One story tells of the difficult marriage between a pagan and a Christian that sought eternal bliss from Valentine. The Rose of Reconciliation, offered by St. Valentine reconciles an arguing couple; it seems to have given rise to the anniversary of February 14th, the day when the Feast of Lovers has been celebrated since the discovery of the body in the basilica in Terni.
Because the Basilica contains the remains St. Valentine, on February 14 of each year engaged couples pilgrim to the church to receive the blessing of the bishop and promise of eternal love. For more information, visit www.keytoumbria.com/Terni/St_Valentine.