Saints Among Us; The Legend of Saint Valentine
Saint Valentine is truly an international man of mystery. World renowned, yet so little is known about the man that the Catholic Church removed him from the General Roman Calendar back in 1969. To further muddy up the waters, three different Valentines were martyred in the history of the early church and all were eventually made saints. The first Saint Valentine served as Bishop of Terni, while another Saint Valentine was a temple priest. Adding to the confusion is the fact that both were beheaded for their faith. Almost nothing is known about the third Saint Valentine. This article, will be about the first Saint Valentine, as much as legend and ambiguity will allow.
The Bishop Valentine, as with all saints, had performed miracles at some point. One miracle occurred when he confessed his faith to a judge. The skeptical judge then presented his blind daughter to Valentine as a test. Naturally, Valentine was able to restore sight to the girl. The judge was so moved, that he removed all idols from his household, received his baptism, and converted his entire, rather large, house hold to Christianity. (Some versions of the legend state that the judge then released all Christian prisoners. Other versions claim it was a prison guard and not a judge.)
According to Legend, Bishop Valentine restored sight to the daughter of a judge. He later left her a note which he signed "from your Valentine." Some people believed that the good bishop had romantic feelings for her that he was forbidden to act on given his position.
It is from this act that we now leave little 'valentines' to those we care for.
Valentine continued to preach Christianity, convert nonbelievers, provide aid for persecuted Christians, and marry Christian couples. Unfortunately for Bishop Valentine, those were all capitol offenses. In Rome, the marriage one was particularly frowned upon. Roman Generals believed that single soldiers fought better than married ones. And marrying Christians could help solidify Christianity as a religion, something that early Rome was actively trying to prevent. Valentine was brought before the Emperor Claudius Gothicus, who the good bishop immediately set out to convert. A move that was no doubt the Christian thing to do, but ended up as another strike against him, legally speaking.
Claudius demanded that Bishop Valentine renounce his faith, and when Valentine refused to forsake God he was sentenced to death. Valentine was beaten with clubs and then beheaded. He donned the white robe of martyrdom on 14 February 270. Just over 200 years later, in 496, Pope Gelasius marked February 14th as feast day in honor of his martyrdom. However, wasn't until the 14th century that his feast day began to be associated with love and romance. Today Saint Valentine is the patron of love, young people, engaged couples, and happy marriages.
In addition to love, youth, engaged couples and happy marriages, Saint Valentine is also the patron of bee keepers, epilepsy, fainting, the plague, travelers, and greetings. With so many specialties under his belt, the good saint must be very busy these days.
Though little is known about the good saint, we do know that he did, in fact, exist. In both the 16th and 19th centuries, archaeological digs have found evidence of his original tomb. He was originally buried on Flaminian Way, and in the 4th century, Pope Julius I built a basilica around the site. His remains were moved to the Church of Saint Praxedes, near the basilica of Saint Mary Major. He continues to lie in peace at the Church of Saint Praxedes while a small church sits near the site of his original resting place. Bits and pieces of the good saint are scattered at basilicas around the world and hundreds of pilgrims make the trek to the various cathedrals ever year to honor him.
Today, nearly two thousand years after he was martyred, his feast day has become enormously popular. Unfortunately, the majority of protestants, atheists, and even Catholics pay little attention to the man behind the feast. Too many people see it as a “Hallmark Holiday,” a made-up day to sell cards, roses, and candy. Whereas other people (like me) prefer the day after Valentine’s Day—a day to stock up on discounted candy. Through it all, the good saint has been all but forgotten. To be sure, the economy benefits by the little boom caused by the holiday. And February is often the coldest month of the year, it’s nice to have a bright little lift to distract from winter’s gloom. However, let us not forget that behind the holiday, a holy man died for Christ.
Celebrations are nice but let us remember the man behind the holiday. If one is going to be a saint, what better saint to be than the patron saint of love? Paul of Tarsus once stated that the greatest of all the gifts was love. God loved us enough to create a beautiful world teeming with life. He loved us enough to stitch us together in the womb. He loved us enough to offer salvation, through His son, who died for our sins. All He asks in return is that we love Him, and that we love one another. This Valentine’s Day, let us pray in honor of the good saint, that our hearts be filled with love.
Some people believe the fact that the Feast of Saint Valentine falls on the 14th of February is an intentional act by the early church to Christianize the pagans. A Roman pagan festival called Lupercalia was in fact celebrated in mid-February, however, the timing seems to be coincidental. Valentine was executed on February 14, and Catholic feast days tend to be observed on days that the early saints were martyred. Furthermore, Valentine's Day didn't have romantic connotations until much later.
© 2018 Anna Watson