This week we celebrate Valentine's Day, a day Americans focus on love and romance. But most of those celebrating don't know that the man for whom this day is named was a Christian persecuted because of his Christian actions.
The following comes from the "Note from the Author to Parents and Educators" that is included in The Story of St. Valentine: More Than Cards and Candy Hearts, a book for children published by VOM that tells the true story of Valentine's Day.
Valentine’s Day is celebrated every year on February 14th, but why? Many buy cards and candied hearts and do not know there was a man named Valentine. Who was the man behind this holiday that has become known for cupid, chocolate, roses and love notes saying, “Be my Valentine”?
Valentine, or Valentinus as he was known, was a leader in the church and lived in the Roman Empire during the third century. However, there are three Valentines who are noted as having lived in the late third century during Emperor 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 Valentinus occurred on February 14th. Many scholars believe two of them, 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 Valentinus’ martyrdom occurred about the year 269 A.D.
Even though some have questioned the existence of Valentinus, many would agree his life is a mystery. History proved his existence when archaeologists unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to him. He is mentioned in Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legend, written about saints around the year 1260. (It is noted 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 Chronicle, printed in 1493.
Sources indicate it was Emperor Claudius II who had Valentinus executed for secretly marrying Roman soldiers, defying an order from the emperor that soldiers were not allowed to marry. Claudius (also called Claudius the Cruel) was having difficulty recruiting soldiers and believed Roman men were unwilling to leave their loved ones because soldiers were required to fight for at least 25 years. Therefore, Claudius banned all marriages and engagements. However, Valentinus, along with Marius, secretly married couples until he was apprehended and brought before the Prefect of Rome. It is even believed Valentinus tried to convert Emperor Claudius. In The Story of Saint Valentine: More Than Cards and Candied Hearts, the conversation between Emperor Cludius and Velentinus is based on the one printed in de Voragine’s Golden Legend. Another legend says during Valentinus’ imprisonment, while awaiting his execution, he restored the sight of his jailer’s daughter. (In this story we call the jailer “Marcus.”) Yet another says on the eve of his death, he wrote a note to the jailer’s daughter and signed it, “From your Valentine.”
In 496 A.D., more than 200 years after Valentinus was executed, a church leader marked February 14th as a celebration to honor Valentinus’ courageous life to replace a pagan Roman holiday. February 14th was the day the Romans honored Juno, the Queen of the Roman gods and goddesses and also known as the goddess of women and marriage. The following day, February 15th, started the Feast of Lupercalia, which honored Faunus, the god of fertility and forests. On the eve of Lupercalia, the names of Roman girls were written on pieces of paper and placed in jars. Young men would draw a girl’s name and be partnered with that girl throughout the festival. Sometimes this pairing lasted the whole year, and often they would fall in love and later marry.
And what about cupid? Why does his image appear during Valentine’s Day? Cupid was the Roman god of love.
Despite the mystery, legends and questions masking the man Valentine, this story was written to convey his courageous life and death. May The Story of St. Valentine: More Than Cards and Candy Hearts inspire children of all ages to boldly present Jesus Christ to a world in need of His hope (I Peter 3:15)!