The man, the myth, the legend
By Josh Smith
Cheap candy, courting, chubby cherubs, charisma, cringeworthy clichés, and candlelit cuisine. Too many people only know this side of St. Valentine’s Day. According to a YouGov poll, 30% of Americans think Valentine’s Day is a “real” special occasion to celebrate with a loved one.
On the other hand, 58% of Americans think it is a conspiracy created by the candy companies. I guess you could say that while some Americans think love is in the air on St. Valentine’s Day, the majority think that it stinks.
While St. Valentine’s Day is celebrated across the nation, technically it is not a national holiday. That’s why you don’t get the day off work – no matter how much you want it. St. Valentine’s Day is, in fact, a religious holiday. In the year 496, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 to be St. Valentine’s Day – a day to commemorate a saint from the early Catholic church…maybe.
The origin of St. Valentine’s Day is a riddle, gift-wrapped with love, inside a mystery. So, without further ado, and with a classic St. Valentine’s Day poem, let’s answer the question: where did St. Valentine’s Day come from?
ROSES ARE RED.
VIOLETS ARE BLUE.
WHO IS ST. VALENTINE?
WHAT DID HE DO?
In short, we have no idea.
According to the Roman Catholic Church, St. Valentine is the patron saint of lovers. There you have it! That’s one of the reasons why St. Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love and affection today. However, he wasn’t just the patron saint of lovers. He was also the patron saint of epileptics and beekeepers. If only there were holidays for those people too! There’s still one problem though…
There is a lot of speculation as to the man, St. Valentine. In fact, there could be several St. Valentine’s! There are no less than three.
The most famous St. Valentine is from Rome. This Valentine was both a priest and a physician. Due to his professions, his preaching really cut to the heart. (Thank you. I’ll be here all week.) After his death, it is believed that he was buried on an ancient Roman road in Rome called the Flaminian Way. Supposedly, a church was built over his grave to commemorate him (although it is unverifiable).
The second St. Valentine has a very similar lore to the Roman one. This St. Valentine, however, was a bishop from the Roman city of Interamna, which is modern-day Terni – the city of lovers. After his death in Rome, his body and possessions were supposedly taken back to be buried in Terni. As was the case for the first St. Valentine, a church was built over his grave. If you visit, you can see his flower-adorned skull on display. How LOVE-ly!
The third St. Valentine is even more mysterious. Other than the fact that he was from Africa, we don’t know anything else about him.
The lore surrounding St. Valentine is murky too. In the Middle Ages, many stories were written about the early church. There were a few that emerged for St. Valentine. The first story is that St. Valentine, while imprisoned, healed the daughter of his jailer from blindness. In a letter he wrote to her, he signed off with the all-too-well-known phrase, “From your Valentine.”
The second story fits the spirit of Valentine’s Day as well. In this story, the Roman emperor, Claudius II, was prohibiting men from marrying because, according to Roman law, married men did not have to go to war. In secret, St. Valentine rebelled against this edict and officiated secret weddings to protect men from battle. He was imprisoned for his defiance.
Among historians, there are a wide swath of beliefs regarding the origins of St. Valentine’s Day. Some believe that there were different Valentines. Others believe that different legends rose up around the same man. Still others believe that he is an archetypal figure representing the spirit of Christians in the Roman Empire during the third century.
Regardless of the origins surrounding St. Valentine’s Day or of the man himself, there is one common thread woven throughout the legends and stories. St. Valentine was a man (or multiple men) who was martyred for his faith. Despite the discrepancies in the stories, each of them ends the same way. In an anti-Christian environment, St. Valentine refused to renounce his faith in Jesus Christ and was martyred as a committed Christian.
So, what do you think of St. Valentine’s Day? Very few Americans buy into the validity of St. Valentine’s Day as a holiday. Most scoff at it as a commercialized celebration. Regardless of how you view the holiday, I trust you appreciate the martyr that it represents. Christians have been persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ throughout the entirety of church history. Jesus himself said, “Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).
The original St. Valentine’s Day, then, was not a commemoration of courtly love, it was a celebration of love for Christ. Whether it is a “real” holiday or not, unwavering commitment to Christ is always worth celebrating.
“Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Look, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison to test you, and you will experience affliction for ten days. Be faithful to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” – Revelation 2:10