Starting on December 26nd, stores cleared their shelves of their garland, ornaments and lights, and filled them with chocolate hearts, stuff animals and candies of all kinds. Regardless, men still rush to the store to get that last, sad looking bouquet of flowers. Likewise, women prepare their fake smiles to receive those dismal flowers. Despite that, it’s worth noting how this whole tradition began.
Valentine’s Day is attributed to Saint Valentine of the first century. He has a similar legendary beginning to Saint Nicholas. However, history is not as clear on Valentine. In fact, there is evidence of more than one Saint Valentine.
As with all legends, true and actual people and events form their beginnings. There are several stories regarding Saint Valentine that may or may not be the same person. Regardless, they all focus around the same point: Valentine’s faithfulness to Christ and the Gospel.
Recorded as the Bishop of Terni, Valentine was arrested for preaching the Gospel. While under house arrest by Judge Asterius, the two would meet. During one of these meetings, the topic of faith and religion arose. The judge, a non-believer, decided to test Valentine and his God. He called for his blind daughter and charged Valentine to heal her. If Valentine succeeded in the healing, Asterius pledged to grant him whatever he wanted. With a simple touch on her eyes and a heartfelt prayer, the girl’s eyesight returned.
Immediately humbled, Asterius’ heart changed. Per Valentine’s request, the judge destroyed all the idols in his home and fasted for three days. Afterwards, he was baptized along with his entire household of 44 people, including servants. Finally, he released all Christian prisoners from the jail.
In 268 AD, Roman emperor Claudius II assumed power. He abhorred Christianity and forbid its preaching and practice. Violators were imprisoned, or worse, martyred. Regardless, Valentine continued his ministry.
Adding to Valentine’s tale, many believe he secretly married Christian couples and helped those harassed by Claudius. Both were serious crimes. Romans accepted and practiced polygamy along with other non-traditional sexual relationships. As emperor, Claudius rejected the teaching of Biblical marriage between one man and one woman. For his efforts, Valentine was arrested.
Soon after, he was sent to Rome for questioning. Here, another story, virtually identical to Asterius’ story, exists involving the jailer in Rome. While some depict these as two separate events, and possibly even two separate Valentines, others perceive them as one in the same, recognizing Asterius as the jailer.
As with the judge, Valentine at first found favor with Claudius when they met. Likewise, he attempted to convert the emperor. Furious, the emperor ordered Valentine to recant or be executed. Valentine refused which led to his torture, a severe beating, and then beheading on February 14th. The actual year is disputed.
Legend has it, before his death, Valentine left a note for the jailer’s daughter. He signed it “Your Valentine.”
Church data records Valentine’s name as one who gave his life for Christ. After being sainted, his feast day became February 14th. However, it was centuries before people recognized it as a secular holiday of love and romance. The conversion began in 1382 with Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem Parliament of Foules. It included the phrase:
For this was on seynt Volantynys day; When euery bryd comet there to chese his make.
(“For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bride cometh there to choose his mate.”)
Over the next couple of centuries, several writers included a reference to Valentine’s Day and love in their work. Even Shakespeare made note of it in Hamlet (1600-1601).
To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes,
And dupp’d the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.— William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5
By the 1800’s, Valentine’s Day had expanded to represent flowers, candies, love birds, hearts and little love notes called “valentines.“
Regardless of where we are today, as with Santa Clause, the real significance is at the beginning. Whether there was one Valentine or several, the martyr story is the true act of love and devotion here. All versions of Valentine describe a man who professed Christ even in the face of death. In fact, he proclaimed Christ on his way to his beheading.
The world wants to take believers away from Christ. The true stories of Saint Valentine, Saint Nicholas and others become distorted and forgotten. They are replaced with commercialism and empty gestures. As people profess the love they have for their significant other, it is important to remember the ultimate valentine. Jesus delivered it to the world on a Friday 2000 years ago. A love note from God, Jesus hung on the cross, bearing all our sins upon himself. Not for His benefit, but so that we may be with Him in eternity.
Many have told their loved one, “I would die for you.” Well, Jesus really meant it. Then he rose again, a victor over death. And all He asks is for in return is our heart, our love, and our devotion. What a wonderful Valentine’s gift.
Happy Valentine’s Day to all.
But that’s just my 2 cents.