The Origins of Saint Valentine
The life of Saint Valentine is one shrouded in much mystery. To some, it’s been decided there were actually three Saint Valentines— one a priest, another the Bishop of Interamna, and the third a martyr in Africa. All Saint Valentines, if there was one or more of them, share the feast day of February 14. Yet, the first one is the Saint Valentine we know the most about. Whether it’s the first, the second, or the third Saint Valentine, their lives must have been all about love and bring together people for the purpose of building relationships. Yet, the story of Saint Valentine is one that is farther from that supposed reality.
What is known is was he was a holy priest in Rome and assisted those being martyred under Claudius II. He was working with Saint Marius and his family. Soon, he was arrested and sent to the prefect of Rome by the emperor. Father Frank O’Gara, a priest at Whitefriars Street Church in Dublin, Ireland, explains the type of society Valentine was living in. “I think we must bear in mind that it was a very permissive society in which Valentine lived,” O’Gara stated. “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.” O’Gara said that did not stop the church from sticking to many of its beliefs on various things like marriage.
“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,” O’Gara stated. “And so it immediately presented the problem to the Christian church of what to do about this.” As a Roman priest, Valentine was forbidden to marry because there was a belief that unmarried soldiers fought better in battle than married ones ever did. Valentine sought to encourage others to marry.
Valentine eventually became one of the favorites of Claudius and Valentine even tried to convert Claudius. After Claudius had told him to stop performing these marriage ceremonies, Valentine was arrested, imprisoned, and tortured for doing so. “One of the men who was to judge him in line with the Roman law at the time was a man called Asterius, whose daughter was blind,” O’Gara explained. “He was supposed to have prayed with and healed the young girl with such astonishing effect that Asterius himself became Christian as a result.” Valentine was able to restore the girl’s vision by placing his hands over her eyes. Asterius was incredibly humbled, broke all the idols in his house, fasted for three days, and was eventually baptized. His family was also baptized in his 44-member household. He eventually freed all of the remaining inmates that were Christian.
For Valentine, his sentencing is pretty difficult to even read, as it occurred in 269 AD. He was given a three-part execution of a beating, a stoning, and a final decapitation because of his stance on Christian marriage. The last words, according to the story, he left were for Asterius’ daughter. He signed it allegedly, “from your Valentine.” O’Gara states there is a special significance to what Valentine believed.
“What Valentine means to me as a priest is that there comes a time where you have to lay your life upon the line for what you believe,” O’Gara said. “And with the power of the Holy Spirit we can do that —- even to the point of death.” What’s significant for O’Gara’s church is that it claims to have the remains of Valentine. It’s the church people go to honor Valentine’s memory and courage as a saint.
“Valentine has come to be known as the patron saint of lovers,” O’Gara said. “Before you enter into a Christian marriage you want some sense of God in your life —- some great need of God in your life. And we know, particularly in the modern world, many people are meeting God through his Son, Jesus Christ.”
Valentine would probably have told couples today that marriage is not easy and there will be sacrifices along the way. He said Valentine probably would state you have to stay true to the vows and commitment you made in marriage. Valentine’s idea of love seems to be that of a mature love versus a young and passionate love.
“So on the day of the marriage they have to take that into context,” O’Gara said. “Love—- human love and sexuality is wonderful, and blessed by God—-but also the shadow of the cross. That’s what Valentine means to me.” Another place where his relics are said to be buried is the Church of St. Praxedes. Whether he resides at Whitefriars, St. Praxedes, or both, the spirit of Saint Valentine is upon us as his feast day comes forth to remind us the lessons he taught us with the sacrifice he made for others in life.
About the author: Tommy Zimmer is a writer whose work has appeared online and in print. His work covers a variety of topics, including politics, economics, health and wellness, addiction and recovery, and the entertainment industry.