Most people think of Saint Valentine, for whom Valentine’s Day is named, as the patron of lovers. But, the Third Century Roman Christian martyr also has a special place in history as the patron of people with epilepsy.
Seizures in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries were widely viewed as the result of a curse or work of demonic forces. The ravages of epilepsy were widely feared, especially by the aristocracy. It was known as “the great illness,” believed to be caused by the devil’s possession. The church’s official treatment was exorcism, and many people with seizures made pilgrimages to the Priory of Saint Valentine, a monastery on the border between France and Germany, seeking Saint Valentine’s healing powers for spiritual healing from the neurological condition. Saint Valentine himself was afflicted with epilepsy, and according to the Catholic Encyclopedia (1912), “In St. Valentine’s Acts it is recorded that he was both a priest and a physician and that he cured a youth who suffered from (seizures).”
Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to celebrate the wonderful and life-saving advances made in the research and treatment of epilepsy–and of other medical conditions. Humanity has made glorious progress in the field of medicine since the days of Saint Valentine; our greatest accomplishment is having discarded the notion of “devil’s posession” as being the source of bodily affliction and exorcism being the official (or even acceptable) “treatment”.
If you would like to send a very special Valentine to the 2.5 million people in the United States who have epilepsy, you can make a donation of any amount to the Epilepsy Foundation of America by clicking on the link below. Helping others to help themselves is the highest form of charity (or righteousness) in Jewish tradition, and undoubtedly the most true and genuine
expression of love.
Happy Valentine’s Day!