Key to Umbria: Terni

St Valentine (14th February)

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There are some thirty saints named Valentine, the most notable of which both have their feast days on 14th February:

  1. St Valentine of Terni; and

  2. St Valentine of Rome

St Valentine of Terni

The Roman Martyrology records under 14th February:

  1. “At Teramo (Terni):

  2. -St Valentine, bishop and martyr, who was scourged, committed to prison, and, because he remained unshaken in his faith, was taken out of his dungeon in the dead of night and beheaded by order of Placidus, prefect of the city;  and

  3. -the holy martyrs Proculus, Ephebus, and Apollonius, who, while keeping watch at the body of St. Valentine, were arrested and put to the sword by command of the consular officer, Leontius”.

The earliest surviving record of St Valentine of Terni is in the Hieronymian Martyrology (430s or 440s), which records:

  1. under 14th February, St Valentine, [buried at] Interamna, 63 Roman miles from Rome on Via Flaminia;

  2. under 15th February, SS Apollonius, Ephebus and Proculus;

  3. under 14th April, SS Valentine, Proculus, Ephebus, and Apollonius  from Interamna; and

  4. under 1st May, SS Valentine, Proculus, Ephebus, and Apollonius from Interamna.

A copy of the legend of St Valentine (BHL 8460), translated into Italian by Edoardo d’Angelo (referenced below, 2015, at pp. 243-7),  is preserved under 14th February in the Leggendari del Duomo.   The martyrdoms of SS Valentine, Proculus, Ephebus, and Apollonius are recorded under 14th February in:

  1. the Martyrology of Bede (ca. 730) in an entry based on BHL 8460 (below); and

  2. the  Martyrologies of Florus, Adon and Usuard

Legend of St Valentine (BHL 8460)

This legend records that a Greek philosopher called Craton invited St Valentine, Bishop of Terni, to Rome to cure his son Cherimon, whose spine was so contorted that his head was bent down to his knees.  St Valentine spent the night in prayer with the boy, who was duly cured.  Craton was then baptised.  His students (see SS Proculus, Ephebus, and Apollonius also converted to Christianity, giving up the study of the profane and instead studying theology under St Valentine.  They were soon joined by St Abundius, the son of the city prefect, Furiosus Placidus, who made a public profession of Christianity.   The prefect arrested St Valentine and had him beheaded, after which the converted students took his body back to Terni for burial.  This provoked the outrage of the senatorial class, which notably included Furiosus Placidus.  He had St Valentine arrested and decapitated in the dead of night.  SS Proculus, Ephebus and Apollonius retrieved the body of St Valentine and took it secretly to Terni, where they buried it “in his church”.  Fearing popular unrest, the Consul Leontius arrested them and put them on trial, once more in the dead of night, before illegally beheading them.  St Abundius buried them beside St Valentine. 

Edoardo d’Angelo (referenced below, 2015, at p. 125) put this account in its historical context by pointing out that the Furius Placidus of the legend was probably Marcus Maecius Memmius Furius Baburius Caecilianus Placidus, who served as Consul in 343, Praetorian Prefect in 342-4; and Urban Prefect in 346-7.   On this model, the murder of St Valentine was a clandestine act of Furius Placidus, who held his post despite the fact that he was resistant to the policies of the Christian Emperor Constans.  Edoardo D’ Angelo therefore had St Valentine (died 347)  as the first bishop of Terni.

Although this legend is conventionally placed among the legends of martyrs, it hardly belongs there. 

  1. Its focus is not on the fact that St Valentine died for his faith; indeed, it does not even record his dies natalis

  2. Neither is it concerned to establish St Valentine as the defender of Terni, where he obviously encountered no difficulties in performing his episcopal functions. 

Its focus is rather on the activities of St Valentine in Rome before his death and, in particular, on the theological position that he maintained during his disputation with Cratone (discussed by Edoardo d’ Angelo, referenced below, at p. 134). 

Edoardo d’ Angelo (referenced below, at 137) suggested that the legend probably post-dated the Hieronymian Martyrology (430s or 440s) and certainly predated the Martyrology of Bede (ca. 730), which quoted from it.  He suggested that is was probably written in the 6th or 7th century, before the Carolingian upheaval of the diocesan structure of Umbria.

Cult of St Valentine in Terni

The cult of St Valentine, and his feast on 14th February, must have been well established by the time of the Hieronymian Martyrology (430s or 440s).  There is abundant material evidence for a paleochristian church on the site of San Valentino and a Christian cemetery here that was in use by 366.  However, the earliest surviving literary evidence for this cult site dates to 742, when (according to the ‘Liber Pontificalis’) Pope Zacharius met the Lombard King Liutprand in the “basilicam Beati Valentini episcopii et martyris sitam in predicta Teramnensium urbe ducatus spoletini” (the basilica of San Valentino, bishop and martyr, in the fore-mentioned Terni, city of the Duchy of Spoleto). 

In the bull by which he restored the diocese of Terni in 1218, Pope Honorius III recorded that the church of Santa Maria there (soon to become the Duomo of the newly reconstituted diocese) had previously belonged to: the glorious martyrs, St Valentine and St Proculus; and to the confessor, St Anastasius

The discovery of relics of St Valentine at San Valentino in 1605 and their translation in 1618 (both discussed below) led to a revival of the cult.  SS Valentine, Proculus and Anastasius remained the joint patron saints of Terni until 1644, when the decision was taken that St Valentine alone should have this designation, a decision ratified by Pope Urban VIII.

Relics of St Valentine of Terni

According to BHL 8460, SS Proculus, Ephebus, and Apollonius (above) took the body of St Valentine from Rome to Terni, where they buried it “ad suam ecclesiam” (in his church, i.e. San Valentino).

Despite the long tradition that St Valentine had been buried in Terni, his head apparently found its way to Jumièges, Normandy.   In ca. 1120, Bishop Baudry of Dol en Bretagne wrote the “Acta translationis capitis S. Valentini martyris Gemmeticum in Gallia” (Legend of the translation of the head of St Valentine to Jumièges -BHL  8461), which detailed miracles that were said to have been performed by this relic of “the priest of Terni”.  For many centuries thereafter, the head of St Valentine was carried in procession throughout the countryside there in order to protect against drought and other threats to the crops.  The Église Saint-Valentin still survives there.

In 1605, Pope Paul V allowed Bishop Giovanni Antonio Onorati to search for the relics of St Valentine on the site of the ruined basilica of San Valentino.  A decapitated skeleton was found and temporarily placed in the Duomo, because the basilica was still in ruins.  The papal authorities insisted that the basilica should be restored, so that the relics could be returned there.  They also proposed that the basilica should be placed in the care of a community of Discalced Carmelites.  Paul V ratified these arrangements in 1606, the new church was consecrated in 1609, and the relics were translated from the Duomo in 1618.  It seems that they were initially placed in the crypt under the presbytery. 

The Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria (the son of the Emperor Ferdinand II), who visited Terni in 1625, paid for the construction of an enlarged tribune in order to create a more fitting location for the relics.  The construction project was undertaken in 1626-30, and the relics of St Valentine were translated to their current position under the high altar in 1696.   (The Archduke Leopold Wilhelm also gave what he claimed to be the head of St Valentine to the new basilica.  He was prince-bishop of Passau, Bavaria from 1625 until his death in 1662.  The relics of St Valentine of Rhaetia (whose feast day was 7th January) had been translated to Passau in 764 and he remains the patron saint of that city.  This suggests that the relic that he gave to the basilica at Terni actually belonged to this other St Valentine.)

Cult of St Valentine in Umbria

Foligno and Forum Flaminii

The legend of  St Felician, bishop of Forum Flaminii (BHL 2846) says that Pope Victor I (189-98) gave him the authority to ordain other bishops, and that he duly ordained the deacon St Valentine as Bishop of Terni.  When this legend was written (in ca. 800),  there was already a church dedicated to St Valentine on Colle San Lorenzo, some 6 km northeast of modern Foligno and some 3 km southeast of Forum Flaminii.  The archeological evidence suggests that this had been built in the late 4th or 5th century (i.e. only decades after the murder of St Valentine) and that an early bishop, presumably of Foligno, had been buried here at around that time.  Thus, in all probability, this was the first episcopal centre of Foligno.  The legend of St Felician presumably claimed that he had ordained St Valentine in order that the unknown bishop who commissioned it could demonstrate the higher ‘credentials‘  his new episcopal centre at civitas Fulginia, where he had recently  ‘discovered’ St Felician’ s relics.  (The archeological evidence is that a martyrium was built on the later site of the Duomo here in ca. 800).


The legend of St Juvenal of Narni (BHL 4614) says that, when he arrived in Narni in 364, the city remained Pagan, despite the efforts there of  by St Terentian of Todi, St Felician of Foligno (above) and St Valentine of Terni, and that St Juvenal built a church dedicated to St Valentine there.  This legend obviously post-dates that of St Felician, although it was written in the same political climate and thus probably soon after 800.  The church dedicated to St Valentine at Narni presumably still survived at this time, and St Valentine himself was still remembered for this evangelical activity in the area. 

However, by this time, Terni itself was probably part of the diocese of Spoleto.  It is possible that the unknown bishop who commissioned the rewriting of the legend was anxious to protect his diocese from the claims of Spoleto, Todi and Foligno.

St Valentine of Rome

The Roman Martyrology also records under 14th February:

  1. “At Rome, on the Flaminian Way, in the time of Emperor Claudius, the birthday of St Valentine, priest and martyr, who, after having cured and instructed many persons, was beaten with clubs and beheaded”. 

The emperor here was presumably Claudius II (268-270), although there is no evidence of the persecution of Christians at this time.

St Valentine of Rome is not mentioned in the Hieronymian Martyrology (although, as noted above, this martyrology constitutes the earliest known reference to St Valentine of Terni).   According to biography of Pope Julius I (337-52) in the ‘Chronography of 354’, he built:

  1. “... a basilica in the Flaminian Way, at the 2nd milestone [between Porta del Popolo and the Milvian Bridge], which is called the Valentiniana.”

The ‘Liber Pontificalis’ did not give the dedication of this basilica, but it described it as a ‘cymiterium’, which suggests that it was built above the presumed grave of a martyr called Valentine.  An funerary inscription (CIL VI 33881) from the basilica, which is dated to the 5th century, commemorates a martyr called St Valentine:

Hic Pastor medicus monument[a in martyris aula]

[f]elix dum superest condidit i[lla sibi]

perfecit cumcta excoluit qui [volt violare]

cernet quo iaceat poena m[anebit eum]

addetur et tibi Valentini gloria [sancti]

vivere post obitum dat [deus ipse suis]

The legend (BHL 5543a) of ‘Valentinus presb. m. Romae,’ which was appended to the legend of "Marius, Martha, Audifax et Abacuc Persae" (BHL 5543), records a Roman priest named Valentine who was martyred on 14th February in the reign of Claudius II (268-70) by the 2nd milestone on Via Flaminia and buried there.  He had been interrogated by the Urban Prefect Calpurnius and then by Calpurnius’ ‘princeps’, Asterius.  When Valentine cured Asterius’ daughter of blindness and then converted his household to Christianity, Claudius II demanded his execution.  This legend seems to have been the source for the St Valentine of Rome who was recorded under 14th February in the Martyrology of Bede (725) and then those of Florus, Adon and Usuard.

This legend might well have been commissioned by Pope Vigilius (537-55), who married his niece Vigilia to the aged Flavius Turcius Rufius Apronianus Asterius after the death of her father in 539.  The Turcii had been a prominent Roman family since at least ca. 300, apparently began to convert to Christianity in the 380s.  It could well be that Vigilius wanted to rewrite history, so that his niece’s husband now belonged to family that had been converted by St Valentine of Rome.

Edoardo d’ Angelo (following Claudia Angelelli, both referenced below) argued (at p. 135) made the case that the basilica built by Pope Julius had been dedicated to St Valentine of Terni, presumably because this was the site of his judicial murder and/or of his initial burial thereafter.   His first point is a circumstantial one: that it could well have been built very soon thereafter.  This is supported by a funerary inscription from the site  Now lost, but recorded by Orazio Marucchi in 1890) that reads:




IS QVATIVO[r et dies[ LIII QVE ET [deposita]//


QV[e fuit ca]RA ET AMABI[lis parentibis suis /]

Despite the lacunae, it is clear that this commemorates the young Veneriosa, who had been born in Terni and who had died four years later during the Consulship of Flavius Eusebius and Flavius Hypatius (i.e. in 359).  It is thus almost contemporary with the earliest surviving funerary inscription from the cemetery at Terni that can be dated, which dates to 366.  This suggests a single cult, that of St Valentine of Terni, celebrated in both locations from the time of his murder.

On this model, Pope Vigilius changed the dedication of the Roman basilica from St Valentine of Terni to the newly-documented St Valentine in Rome at some time in the period 539-55.

Read more:

E. d’Angelo, “Terni Medievale: La Città, la Chiesa, i Santi, l' Agiografia”, (2015) Spoleto

C. Angelelli, “Roma o Interamna Nahars? Il Più Antiche Testimonianze del Culto di San  Valentino e il Problema della Priorità”, in:

  1. M.Bassetti and  E.Menestò (Eds), “San Valentino e il Suo Culto tra Medioevo ed Età Contemporanea: uno Status Quaestionis(Terni, 9-11 dicembre 2010)” (2012)  Spoleto, pp. 127-58

M. Pagano, “Cimitero e Chiesa di San Valentino”, in:

  1. A. Bravi (Ed.), “Aurea Umbria: Una Regione dell’ Impero nell’ Era di Costantino”, Bollettino per i Beni Culturali dell’ Umbria, (2012) p. 263

O. Marucchi, Il Cimitero e la Basilica di S. Valentino: Guida Archeologica della Via Flaminia dal Campidoglio al Ponte Milvio”, (1890) Rome

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