Valentine’s Day: the holiday that tries to warm our hearts in the middle of frigid February. With it comes a feel-good message of love and a lot of heart-shaped sugary treats. And, of course, Cupid sporting his signature diaper and quiver of arrows.
Popular Valentine's Day imagery. Image from here.
Celebrating the Feast of St. Valentine has become more about chocolate and rhyming Hallmark greetings than was originally intended. How did the martyr St. Valentine become a match-making stereotype? We did some digging to find out more about this saint, whose feast has fallen victim to a somewhat misguided societal interpretation.
Alas, it seems his life is primarily one of mystery. Perhaps that is why he became associated with love and its often mysterious nature?
It appears St. Valentine is in fact a “composite character” of two saints of the same name. Some accounts say he was a Roman priest martyred around 270 A.D. for refusing to renounce his faith. At the time, Christians were persecuted under the rule of Claudius II. St. Valentine was imprisoned after being caught marrying Christian couples. He was even gutsy enough to try and convert the emperor. His efforts were not well received – he was beaten with clubs and stoned for his efforts. He somehow survived, so was promptly beheaded.
Not exactly the romantic roots one would expect to be at the “heart” of Valentine’s Day.
Another account suggests St. Valentine was the Bishop of Terni, Italy. While under house arrest, he healed the blind daughter of Judge Asterius, who then converted along with a significant number of his friends and family. Upon gaining his freedom, he tried to evangelize the emperor Claudius. Similar to the previous account, his attempt earned him a gruesome execution.
St. Valentine was known for standing up for the rights of Christian prisoners. Image from here.
Based on the first account, there is an obvious link between St. Valentine and Christian marriage. But perhaps more significant is the common thread in both stories: a love for God so strong that St. Valentine was willing to risk his life to make that love known to his friends, his family and some of the most influential leaders of his day.
The story of St. Valentine’s life points to the significance of love and its centrality in Christian life. His story is a powerful account of the sacrifice that can be required in love. It reminds us that the Christian walk requires much courage and at times involves persecution.
Similarly, our relationships with one another require loving sacrifice: parents tend to the never-ending needs of young children; spouses faithfully support one another throughout sickness and health; and friends and siblings lovingly call one another to be the best versions of themselves.
St. Valentine’s life encourages us to pursue a true and more Christ-like love—a love that endures through long-term struggle and beyond romance or warm feelings.
So while you’re stocking up on roses, cards and treats in heart-shaped boxes, don’t forget to ask for the intercession of St. Valentine. May his life inspire you to love without counting the cost.
St. Valentine, pray for us! Image from here.
Marlena Loughheed is a communications coordinator with the Archdiocese of Toronto's Office of Public Relations and Communications.