February is often considered the month of ‘love,’ so it’s only fitting to learn more about the Basilica di San Valentino, which honors Saint Valentine. The basilica stands just outside the town center of Terni, Italy on the site of an ancient Christian cemetery where St. Valentine was buried. He was the first bishop of the city and a martyr who lived in the third century A.D.
Terni’s Basilica di San Valentino is an elegant and elaborate church that was constructed in the valley below the main city. Established in 1630, the Basilica of San Valentino is built on top of the remains of two previous churches, the first of which dates from the fourth century (which was destroyed by the Goths in the sixth century) and the second dates from the seventh century. The church was built on top of the tomb of St. Valentine, but his remains are now preserved behind glass above the main altar of the church.
The history of the basilica is uncertain until 1605, when the search for the body of St. Valentine began. The excavations were promoted by Pope Paul V as part of the renewed interest in the first martyrs of the Church, which served to authenticate their existence and increase their honor. The state of ruin that took its toll on the basilica combined the growth in the worship of St. Valentine and led to his relics being transferred to the cathedral.
The reconstruction of the basilica began in 1606 with the building of a simple structure, including the altar containing the body of St. Valentine, which was returned to the basilica in 1618. The stucco statues on the outside, also dating from the 17th century, were placed during an 18th century restoration.
The saint’s custom of promoting relationships among the young is associated with a number of legends. One story tells of the difficult marriage between a pagan and a Christian, brought together by St. Valentine for eternity. Another story references a “rose of reconciliation” offered by St. Valentine to an arguing couple. It is also said that St. Valentine married couples, particularly Roman soldiers, at a time when Emperor Claudius II banned soldiers from getting married to keep them free of familial obligations. The day that we celebrate St. Valentine, February 14, is the day on which he was martyred for preaching God’s word.
Each year on February 14, engaged couples do pilgrimages to the church to receive the blessing of the bishop and promise of eternal love. For more information about Basilica di San Valentino, visit www.sanvalentinoternibasilica.it.