Feb 2018

First Thoughts: Derek

There are a dozen or so St Valentines in the official Roman Catholic list of saints, but the one we remember on February 14 was probably the Roman physician and priest who was beheaded near Rome on the orders of the Emperor Claudius on February 14, AD 270. Two other St Valentines share the same feast day. One, the Bishop of Interamna, was also martyred during the time of the Emperor; the other suffered martyrdom in Africa with several companions.

Valentine was martyred because he betrayed Emperor Claudius by conducting illegitimate wedding ceremonies. The Emperor claimed that married men made poor soldiers, and consequently decreed that all marriages of younger citizens would be outlawed. Valentine, however, maintained that marriage was part of God's plan and purpose for the world. He continued to conduct marriages in secret between young people in the name of love.

This gained him unwelcome notoriety, which became his downfall, and he was arrested. His jailer was a man called Asterius whose daughter was blind. Whilst in jail, Valentine fell in love with the jailer's daughter and, one legend has it, he prayed with her and she regained her sight. Asterius himself later became a Christian.

Valentine was sentenced to a three part execution of a beating, stoning, and finally decapitation because of his stand for Christian marriage. The story goes that the last words he wrote were in a note to Asterius' daughter which he signed "from your Valentine" which provides the inspiration for today's romantic missives.

No record exists of romantic celebrations on Valentine’s Day prior to a poem Chaucer wrote around 1375. In his work Parliament of Foules, he links a tradition of courtly love with the celebration of St Valentine’s feast day. The poem refers to February 14 as the day birds (and humans) come together to find a mate.

Because of a multiplicity of St Valentines, you could celebrate the saint multiple times each year. Perhaps St Valentine of Viterbo on November 3, or St Valentine of Raetia on January 7. Women might choose to honour the female St Valentina who was martyred in Palestine on July 25, AD 308.

Although this celebration of love has been a delight for card makers, florists and restaurants, you don’t need to be a saint to celebrate God’s love. We ought at least to try and do that every day.


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