Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Who was St. Valentine?

Valentine's Day is celebrated every year on February 14th, but why? Who is the man behind this holiday known for candied hearts, chocolate, roses and love notes?

There are three Valentines who are noted as having lived in the late third century in the Roman Empire during Claudius II's reign. One was a priest in Rome, another a bishop of Interamna (modern Terni, Italy), and the third a martyr in a Roman province of Africa. Some believe the martyrdom of all three men named Valentine (or Valentinus) occurred on February 14th. Many scholars believe two of the Valentines, the priest in Rome and the bishop of Interamna, are the same, suggesting the bishop of Interamna was a Roman priest who became bishop and was sentenced there and brought to Rome for his execution. It is believed Valentine's execution occurred around the year 269 A.D. In 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius marked February 14th as a celebration in honor of Valentine's martyrdom to replace the pagan Roman holiday in celebration of the goddess Juno and the eve of the Feast of Lupercalia.

Many would agree Saint Valentine's life is a mystery. History proved his existence when archaeologists unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to Saint Valentine. He is mentioned in Jacobus de Voragine's Colden Legend, written circa 1260, about saints. (It is written that this was perhaps the most widely read book after the Bible during the late Middle Ages.) He was also featured in a woodcut in the illustrated book called The Nuremberg Chronic/e, printed in 1493.

Sources indicate it was Emperor Claudius II who had Valentine executed for secretly marrying Claudius' soldiers, defying an order from the emperor that soldiers were not allowed to marry. Claudius was having difficulty recruiting soldiers and believed the reason was an unwillingness for Roman men to leave their loved ones, as a soldier would be required to fight for at least 25 years. Therefore, Claudius banned all marriages and engagements. However, Valentine, along with Marius, secretly married couples until he was caught, apprehended and brought before the Prefect of Rome. It is even believed Valentine tried to convert Emperor Claudius and was then imprisoned. One legend says Valentine restored the sight of his jailer's daughter while he awaited his execution. Yet another legend says that on the eve of his death, he wrote a note to the jailer's daughter and signed it, "From your Valentine."

Despite the mystery and questions surrounding the man we have come to know as Valentine, the accounts of his courageous decision to marry couples against the Emperor's law and share the gospel with him stand as testimonies, encouraging us to stand up for Jesus Christ!

~ The Voice of the Martyrs, February 2006

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