Like many holidays, Valentine’s Day is arrayed with a myriad of stories and legends.* Several St. Valentines did live in the early centuries of the church. One set of stories tells of Valentine’s arrest under the Roman Emperor Claudius who tried to persuade Valentine to renounce Christianity and take up Roman pagan religion. Valentine did not obey and, in fact, tried to convince the Emperor to become a Christian. Claudius was upset by Valentine’s refusal to retract his faith in Jesus and had Valentine jailed and killed.
Where does romantic love come in? Another slant on the Valentine-Claudius story is that Claudius wanted an army of single men, thinking that single men made better soldiers. The priest, Valentine, performed secret weddings for the young men who wanted to have wives. Claudius heard about these clandestine weddings and had Valentine arrested. While in jail, he healed the jailor’s daughter. As the story goes, on the eve of his execution Valentine wrote a “valentine” to his beloved, believed to be the young lady he healed. He wrote, “From your Valentine.”
As you can guess, stories like this snowball through history growing larger and more elaborate. Chaucer mentions Valentine’s Day as does Ophelia in Hamlet (Shakespeare).
In 1797 a British publisher began to publish verse for young men to give or read to their sweethearts. In the U.S.A., Esther Howland of Worchester, Massachusetts in 1847 began publishing lacey, decorated cards to be given on Valentine’s Day. Now only Christmas cards beat out the billions of Valentine’s Day cards bought and given sent each year.
If a kernel of truth is in the legend behind St. Valentine’s Day, we, as followers of Jesus, rejoice that St. Valentine did not surrender his faith as Emperor Claudius required. Instead, Valentine stayed courageously true, even trying to convince Claudius to become a Christian. For all its association with romantic love—with red roses and dark chocolates and sometimes profound, sometimes cheesy poetry—behind Valentine’s Day is a deep, committed love to Jesus Christ. God’s amazing love for us through his Son, Jesus Christ, gives meaning and endurance to any and all other loves in our lives. This year in the flurry of over a billion Valentine’s Day cards, don’t forget the saint who refused to buckle to imperial power. At the cost of his life, he gave us St. Valentine’s Day. He laid down his life for Jesus. From the cross, Jesus asks, “Will you be my Valentine?”
*Note: Some information collected from Wikipedia