Who was St. Valentine, Really?
Valentine’s Day is almost upon us. I can hear your inward (or maybe even outward) groans at the mention of such a disgusting, vomit-inducing, sickly sweet day. But I can also hear those of you who are gently sighing, looking meaningfully into the distance as you dream of that perfect date with that perfect person.
How did we get here? How did we get to such a stage where half of our society detests February 14th, and half of our society adores such a date?
The history of Valentine’s Day is somewhat surprising. Father Frank O’Gara of Whitefriars Street Church in Dublin, Ireland, recounts the true story of the man behind the holiday – St. Valentine.
“He was a Roman Priest at a time when there was an emperor called Claudias who persecuted the church at that particular time,” Father O’Gara explains. “Claudias also had an edict that prohibited the marriage of young people. This was based on the hypothesis that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers because married soldiers might be afraid of what might happen to them or their wives or families if they died.”
“I think we must bear in mind that it was a very permissive society in which Valentine lived,” says Father O’Gara. “Polygamy would have been much more popular than just one woman and one man living together. And yet some of them seemed to be attracted to Christian faith. But obviously the church thought that marriage was very sacred between one man and one woman for their life and that it was to be encouraged. And so it immediately presented the problem to the Christian church of what to do about this.”
“The idea of encouraging them to marry within the Christian church was what Valentine was about. And he secretly married them because of the edict.”
Valentine was eventually caught. Claudius ordered that he be put to death; he was arrested, dragged before the Prefect of Rome, and was condemned to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. The sentence was carried out on February 14, circa 270AD.
How did we get from a bloody, gruesome, ‘fight-for-what’s-right’ piece of history to a day filled with roses, chocolates, and glittery cards?
When I read the story of St. Valentine, one thing strikes me. He was not afraid to stand up for what he believed in, even to the point of death. He believed in having one lifelong partner in marriage, and he believed in the fundamentals of marriage within the Church; a marriage full of respect, loyalty, and most importantly, a marriage with Jesus at the centre.
This was so counter cultural at the time. As mentioned above, a lot of people wouldn’t have committed to one partner, often having many partners at the same time throughout their whole life. But, despite all of the opposition, hate, and violence, St. Valentine continued to stand firm in what he believed in, right until the very end.
It makes me wonder what we can do this year on February 14th to make a change. Jesus was counter cultural. St. Valentine was counter cultural. How can we be counter cultural?
How about not spending crazy amounts of money on superficial…..things? How about spending quality time with your loved ones? How about not getting yourself into a state of depression because you haven’t yet found ‘the one’, and instead pick yourself up, know that God has a plan, and just get on with your life?
Because trust me. Valentine’s Day is worth so much more than buying millions of cards that have killed millions of trees that will only be thrown away a couple of days later.
Valentine’s Day is about appreciating true love, and by that I don’t mean the type of love that Hollywood throws in our faces on a daily basis. I’m talking the gritty, raw, bloody, sacrificial, gruesome kind of love; the kind of love that Jesus has for you; the kind of love that held Him on the Cross for you; the kind of love that has the power to change the world.
It isn’t sexy. It’s messy. But when we stand firm for what we believe in, out of a deep love for humankind, change will happen.
Learn what real love is. Then take it to the streets. Take it to the people who need it most. Which, when it comes down to it, is all of us.
‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ -John 15:13
Alice Morris is a blogger, photographer and poet. Read more about her here!