What does Valentine's Day and Epilepsy Have in Common?
As well as being the patron saint of love, St. Valentine was also the patron saint of epilepsy.
In ancient times, patron saints were of great significance in the treatment of severe and chronic illnesses, as their intercession with God was considered to have a therapeutic effect.
How St. Valentine became the patron saint of epilepsy is uncertain. One theorist points out that Valentine sounds much like the German word for “fallen”. Epilepsy was once known as the “falling sickness”. Other legends propose that a 3rd century bishop named Valentine von Terni freed the son of a Roman orator from an epileptic seizure.
Regardless, it would be assumed that people with epilepsy and their families turned to St. Valentine not only for love, but for comfort and hope to enable them to cope with their condition.
This woodcut produced around 1480 shows Saint Valentine in the regalia of a bishop. He is making a sign of blessing over two individuals, who – it may be assumed – following the stopping or prevention of a seizure are lying exhausted on the ground (a boy and a girl, possibly siblings).
In the background, an older couple approaches with gifts of thanksgiving – perhaps the parents.
The permanent success of the healing by Bishop Valentine is suggested by the representation of two animals, into which – according to the biblically-based belief of the medieval Christians – the demons of the disease were driven following their expulsion from the humans. The text in the picture is translated as, "Saint Valentine, pray to God for us in Rufach."