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What does Valentine’s Day and Epilepsy Have in Common?

epilepsy and valentine

As well as being the patron saint of love, St. Valentine was also the patron saint of epilepsy.

Valentine’s Day is not just for lovers. The celebration in honor of the patron saint of lovers, St. Valentine, takes on greater meaning when you consider he is also the patron saint of epilepsy — a common neurological condition that causes seizures, and affects more than 3 million children and adults in the United States, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.

Some accounts suggest St. Valentine is connected to epilepsy because the name Valentine is similar to the German word for “fallen.” Epilepsy was once known as the “falling sickness” because some seizures caused a person to lose consciousness and fall. Still other legends propose that a 3rd century bishop named Valentine von Terni freed the son of a Roman orator from an epileptic seizure.

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.”

The celebration in honor of the patron saint of lovers, St. Valentine, takes on greater meaning when you consider he is also the patron saint of epilepsy—a common neurological condition that causes seizures and affects nearly 3 million children and adults in the United States.

Medicine and religion have long been intertwined; however, medical practitioners were sometimes regarded skeptically in medieval times causing people to seek spiritual intervention for their illnesses. In addition, brain disorders in the 14th and 15thcenturies were widely regarded as supernatural phenomena incited by evil spirits or the devil. Because many people believed their symptoms were the work of dark spiritual forces, it made sense for them to combat their perceived tormenters with an antidote to evil in the form of saints—in particular patron saints—who were believed to have restorative abilities for specific ailments.

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References:

  • Valentine’s Day: Not Just for Lovers! retrieved from Epilepsy foundation. URL: http://www.epilepsy.com/article/2015/2/valentines-day-not-just-lovers.
  • What does Valentine’s Day and Epilepsy Have in Common? writen by BC EPILEPSY SOCIETY. URL: http://www.bcepilepsy.com/blog/what-does-valentine-s-day-and-epilepsy-have-in-common-2015.

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