The first representation of Saint Valentine appeared in the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493); alongside the woodcut portrait of Valentine, the text states that he was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius II, known as Claudius Gothicus. He was arrested and imprisoned upon being caught marrying Christian couples and otherwise aiding Christians who were at the time being persecuted by Claudius in Rome. Helping Christians at this time was considered a crime. Claudius took a liking to this prisoner – until Valentinus tried to convert the Emperor – whereupon this priest was condemned to death. He was beaten with clubs and stoned; when that failed to kill him, he was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate. Various dates are given for the martyrdom or martyrdoms: 269, 270, or 273.
The real Saint Valentine, as far as history and Catholic legend tell us, was imprisoned because he was illegally marrying people. In a Pagan Roman society, marrying Christians under Christ was illegal. Married men at that time did not have to go to war, so that threatened the perceived security of the State. Sheltering Christians from imprisonment was even worse — of course Valentine loved doing that too. In prison, he was liked, even fell in love with his prison ward’s blind daughter. But then he tried to convert the prison ward to Christianity. Beatings, stoning, and beheading then ensued.
Sorry Hallmark. There’s no hearts and angels and sappiness in this historical account. Instead, it’s all miscreant behavior, violence, and bloody death. That was Valentine…but not his day.
This Valentine’s Day, go out and protect the persecuted. Marry those who can’t legally get married! And be willing to die for it!
Or at least remember that love, compassion, faithfulness, and generosity are all worth sacrificing comfort and stability for.
Maybe you are stumped on how to accept this Valentine challenge. Luckily, my dear friend J-Doug Harrison (aka the Outpatient Monk) both describes the nature of this holiday in clear contrast to the norm, and gives you ways to act on it.
Interesting Resources About St. Valentine
- Catholic Online describes the traditional understanding of who he was
- History.com gives 6 interesting facts you didn’t know about St. Valentine, like that he’s also the patron saint of Beekeeping and Epilepsy!
I originally wrote this post at the height of the public controversy around Evangelical questions around marrying homosexual couples. That controversy is still ever-present in the Church today. But since then we, as Evangelicals and as a Church have found so many more things to be bothered by, and to be moralistic about.
This Valentine’s I’m encouraged to think more like Valentine. We’re talking about this mystical man 1800 years later because he chose to define his life by LOVE. I choose to fight doggedly for LOVE. I want to be known by the people I have loved and received love from and given love to; not by those whom I exclude or judge.