It’s getting close to that time of year again. If you have a significant other, you are probably planning chocolates, flowers, and/or a special date to show them how much they mean to you. If not, you might be plotting a day out with other partner less friends, or just plain ignoring the holiday. But where did Valentine’s Day come from? Believe it or not, this day celebrating romantic love started as a sacred holiday remembering a Christian martyr.
I’ll start with what we know historically about St. Valentine. His name was Valentine, he was a priest, he was martyred, and he is traditionally celebrated on February 14th. That’s it. This is not unusual for some early Christian saints whose names far outlived the record of their deeds. Some even argue that there were actually multiple Valentines who were martyred and eventually had their memories blurred together. Inevitably, people wanted to know more about the person they were honoring and multiple different legendary accounts of his life began to circulate. The most popular and well known claims Valentine was a priest during the reign of the third century Roman Emperor Claudius II, who was in the middle of a war and needed soldiers. As married men wanted to stay home to care for their families, Claudius declared marriage illegal.
In something you might notice is a bit of a trend with Dunker Punks, Valentine obeyed a higher power and continued to marry couples in secret, allowing the new husbands to say home from war. Eventually he was caught, imprisoned, and set to be executed; however, even there he continued to proclaim the message of the risen Christ. While in prison he taught the jailor’s blind daughter about Jesus, and miraculously healed her sight. On the day of his execution he left her a note signed “Your Valentine.” Other legends tell of the saint healing the sight of the blind daughter of a Roman judge to prove the truth of Christianity (a story probably sharing a common origin with the earlier mentioned one), and having being executed after trying to convince the emperor to become a Christian. It wasn’t until the fifteenth century that the day celebrating his life and witness came to be associated with romantic love, arguably first by Chaucer, author of the Canterbury Tales
Ultimately, regardless of if the accounts of Valentine’s life actually happened or not, they are true. They witness to the great faith of a man who was willing to lay it all down for his master and has inspired countless generations after him, even if the exact factual details of his life can never be truly known. As Jesus taught, “There is no greater love that this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Most Gracious Heavenly Father, You gave Saint Valentine the courage to witness to the gospel of Christ, even to the point of giving his life for it. Help us to endure all suffering for love of you, and to seek you with all our hearts; for you alone are the source of life and love. Grant that we may have the courage and love to be strong witnesses of your truth to our friends and family and to the whole world. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
P.S. If you enjoy these posts, one of my inspirations for writing them, Lent Madness aka the Saintly Smack down begins this Thursday, the day after Ash Wednesday. A lighthearted devotional based on March Madness, each day in Lent sees two great Dunker Punks from across the denominational spectrum pitted against each other in a race to see who will win this year’s golden halo. More information including this year’s bracket can be found at www.lentmadness.org. I hope to see you there!
Nolan McBride is a History and Religion major at Manchester University. He loves music, theater, and learning about Christian traditions around the world. He enjoys swimming and singing and is still sore about his family’s namesake, St. Brigid of Kildare, losing to St. Francis of Assisi in the last Lent Madness competition. You can follow him on twitter at @nmcbride35, and find him on Facebook.
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