From the blog: Women for Faith & Family
Cupids. Candy. Flowers. Lacy hearts. Strange, isn’t it, that the best known Christian saint on the secular calendar — a holiday devoted to romantic love — is a martyr for the Christian faith?
Saint Valentine did “die of love”, to be sure — but not of the romantic sort! Strange, also, considering its enormous popularity, that this saint’s feast no longer appears on the Church’s calendar. (Officially, February 14 marks the feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodias, 9th century missionaries to the Slavs.)
How did the “Saint” disappear from Valentine’s Day? Can we “re-Christianize” the celebration of this popular holiday? Who is Saint Valentine, anyway?
There are at three different Saint Valentines, all of them martyrs, mentioned in the early martyrologies for the date of February 14th.
One is described as a priest in Rome, another a bishop (of Interamna, the modern Terni). Both apparently were martyred in the second half of the third century and buried at different places on the Flaminian Way outside of Rome. The third St. Valentine was martyred in Africa with a number of companions.
Almost nothing is known about any of these early Christian men — except that they died for the love of Christ!
Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from Christ’s side, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee
From the malicious enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That I may praise Thee with Thy saints
and with Thy angels
Forever and ever
The popular customs connected with Saint Valentine’s Day’s probably originated in medieval Europe. At that time, when “courtly love” was in flower, there was a common belief in England and France that on February 14th, precisely half way through the second month of the year, the birds began to pair.
Thus, we read in the 14th century English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Parliament of Foules”:
For this was on Seynt Valentynes’ day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate. (Chaucer’s original spelling).
This belief about “love-birds” is probably the reason Saint Valentine’s feast day came to be seen as specially consecrated to lovers, and as a proper occasion for writing love letters and sending lover’s tokens. The literature of the fourteenth and fifteenth-century in both France and England contain allusions to this practice.
This association with romantic love, along with the medieval revival of interest in classic literature, no doubt led to the “paganizing” of this martyr’s feast, so that the Roman god, Cupid (the counterpart of Eros in Greek mythology), supplanted the saint in the celebration of the feast. In Roman mythology, Cupid, the son of Venus, was a winged immortal who had the mischievous habit of shooting invisible arrows into the hearts of mortals, which inflamed them with blind and helpless passion — for the next person they might see.
The Golden Legend, a medieval book of stories about saints, says that Valentine, a priest, was imprisioned by the emperor Claudius II for leading people to Christ. While Valentine was being interrogated by a Roman officer, the priest preached Christ as the “one and only Light”. The officer, who had a blind daughter, challenged Valentine to pray to Christ for her cure. The girl was cured, and the entire family were converted to Christianity.
According to legend, while awaiting execution, he wrote notes of instruction, affection and encouragement to the Christian community in Rome, which were secretly delivered by a boy who visited him in prison.
It is ironic that a Roman Christian who died defending the faith is now chiefly associated with a pagan god, Cupid!
More great Saint Valentine’s Day info here…