Valentine’s Day: a time for pink hearts, red bows, and white lace; a time for chocolate boxes and rose bouquets, candlelight dinners, and cards. It’s a time to celebrate romance … and a chance for forgetful husbands and boyfriends to make or break a relationship.
But in truth, Valentine’s Day is much more than that. Long before the Hallmark® Card Company was founded or candy hearts invented, there was a real Valentine, and his story is about far more than romance. It’s about strength and faith, courage, and conviction … friendship and love.
The Real Valentine
It’s hard to imagine now, but well over a thousand years ago, Christianity was not the dominant religion in Europe. Early Christians faced intense persecution, and it wasn’t until the year 380 A.D. that Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.
One early Christian was Valentine, or Valentinius in Latin. Actually, there may have been two Valentines. Because one or both lived so long ago, it’s impossible to know for certain what is fact and what is fiction. But it seems that both men—if there were in fact two—were martyred for their faith.
The first Valentine lived in Rome during the time of Claudius II. As the story goes, Claudius was a very war-like emperor who found it difficult to retain the men in his army. Thinking it was because they preferred to stay home and establish families, Claudius forbade his soldiers to marry. Despite the edict, many Christian soldiers still desired to marry their sweethearts no matter the cost. For help, they turned to Valentine, a local priest. Despite the danger and with little regard for his own safety, Valentine performed secret wedding ceremonies for everyone who asked.
When Claudius discovered this, he promptly arrested Valentine and sentenced him to death. It was in prison, awaiting execution, that he enshrined himself in the annals of history forever.
Having befriended his jailer’s daughter (some sources claim he fell in love with her; others that he healed the girl of blindness), Valentine frequently sent her letters, each ending with the immortal words:
From Your Valentine
And that is where the tradition comes from today.
Valentine died on February 14.
The second Valentine was the Bishop of Terni, a town some sixty miles northeast of Rome. This Valentine was probably imprisoned for proselytizing, although some versions of the story claim that he was the first to wed a pagan man with a Christian woman. Regardless, he was captured, sentenced to death, and martyred just outside of Rome … also on February 14. Because of the similarities between these two men, many historians have supposed them to be the same person.
Whether there was one Valentine or two, their stories are remarkable for the same reason: faith under fire, courage in adversity, and an unshakeable conviction in what was right. And it wasn’t just Valentine who showed these qualities. Think of the soldiers in the first Valentine’s story, or the Pagan man and the Christian woman in the second, all committed to being with the people they loved despite whatever opposition stood in their way.
And that, to me, is what Valentine’s Day is all about. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you believe in, or where you come from. Everyone can identify with Valentine’s story. Nowadays, corporations and advertisers portray the holiday as being simply about romance, but at its core, Valentine’s Day is really about something deeper. It’s about celebrating the bond and commitment each of us have with our loved ones. It’s about the dedication we as ordinary people have to each other … a link that cannot be severed by anyone or anything. That makes Valentine’s Day a day worth celebrating; Happy Valentine's Day...
Michael L. Schwartz, RFC®, CWS®, CFS
Schwartz Financial Services
ph 215.886.2122 |