Just a Thought: It is Valentine’s Day
by Steve Walker
Three weeks ago in my column, I promoted today’s celebration of Valentine’s Day also known as St. Valentine’s Day of the Feast of Saint Valentine. I pointed out it is associated with romantic love and some of its historical significance. Well now that it is actually Valentine’s Day let’s revisit it again without rehashing what I wrote about back then.
According to historical data, the history of Valentine's Day is obscure, and further clouded by various fanciful legends. The holiday's roots are in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, a fertility celebration commemorated annually on February 15.
Pope Gelasius l recast this pagan festival as a Christian feast day circa 496, declaring February 14 to be St. Valentine's Day. What is confusing is that there were three early Christian saints by that name. Who knew?
Which St. Valentine this early pope intended to honor remains a mystery: according to the Catholic Encyclopedia. One was listed as a priest in Rome, another a bishop in Terni, and of a third St. Valentine almost nothing is known except that he met his end in Africa.
Rather astonishingly, all three Valentines were said to have been martyred on Feb. 14. What a coincidence!
Most scholars believe that the St. Valentine of the holiday was a priest who attracted the disfavor of Roman emperor Claudius ll around 270. At this stage, the factual ends and the mythic begins.
According to one legend, Claudius II had prohibited marriage for young men, claiming that bachelors made better soldiers. Valentine continued to secretly perform marriage ceremonies but was eventually apprehended by the Romans and put to death.
Another legend has it that Valentine, imprisoned by Claudius, fell in love with the daughter of his jailer. Before he was executed, he allegedly sent her a letter signed "from your Valentine."
Probably the most plausible story surrounding St. Valentine is one not focused on Eros (passionate love) but on Agape (Christian love): he was martyred for refusing to renounce his religion.
In 1969, the Catholic Church revised its liturgical calendar, removing the feast days of saints whose historical origins were questionable. St. Valentine was one of the casualties.
When I was Justice of the Peace I performed a few weddings on St. Valentine’s Day. The most memorable was one I did allude to in my last Valentine’s Day column. I performed it at a flea market in the concession office on Fredericksburg Road where they met, fell in love and exchanged vows. True love. That was definitely a unique wedding.
As stated earlier, Valentine’s Day was first associated with romantic love in 18th-century England. That is where it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, and sending greeting cards known as "Valentines."
Those Valentine's Day symbols are used today to include the heart-shaped, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards.
Valentine’s Day, many couples, young and old, are expected to exchange vows, since it is the most popular day in the year to get married. Whether or not you get married, it is still a good idea to at least send someone you care about, a Valentine’s Day Card.
And as always, what I write is “Just a Thought.”
Steve Walker is a Vietnam Veteran and former Justice of the Peace and Journalist.