Monday, February 07, 2005

Saint Valentine, a man for our time

Published February 7. 2005

Hearts, flowers, candy, sexy lingerie...these are the things that have come to symbolize the meaning of the Hallmark holiday of "Valentines Day." Couples get engaged on February 14th, some run off to places like "Cupid's Chapel of Love" to tie the knot and others steal away for the weekend in hope of finding romance or recapturing the passions that brought them together in the first place. Teens anonymously send each other cute cards, toys and candy at school while small children exchange their favorite sentimental valentine greeting cards in cute bags artfully adorned with their names.

But what is the origin of this day and who was Saint Valentine? Much more than a Hallmark invention, Saint Valentine was a man who lived many centuries ago but is definitely a man for our time.

For many years, my children thought he was a fat cherub-like angel that flew around shooting love arrows into the bodies of lonely hearts. This is sweet, but hardly the truth about a man who was simply a man of God and a Roman.

Valentine was a holy Catholic priest in second century Rome, who with St. Maurius, assisted the Christian martyrs while they suffered under the persecution of Emperor Claudius II. Once under arrest for crimes against the Empire (never defined), it was demanded that he renounce his Christian faith. Refusing to do so, he was beaten with clubs and beheaded on February 14. He was known for his virtues of charity, hospitality and compassion.
About the year 270, after Father Valentine's death. Pope Julius I built a church near Ponte Mole in his memory which for a long time gave name to the gate nowcalled Porta del Popolo, formerly, Porta Valetini or the Port of Valentine.
Like many holidays (or Holy Days) Christian Feasts were substituted where pagan practices abounded. On February 15, boys would typically draw tickets with names of girls they would rape in honor of their goddess Februata Juno. Christian priests, in an effort to abolish this practice, substituted the name of the saints on the tickets given on this day. Whether that protected the virtue of many Roman girls is unknown but is nevertheless a courageous attempt nonetheless. This practice ended when Constantine came to power.
It is traditionally thought that the reason St. Valentine was murdered so quickly while other martyrs were held prisoner for many years before their actual execution was due to the fact that he continued to marry young couples even though Emperor Claudius forbade it. The Emperor didn't believe in sacramental marriage and thought it was an impediment to the soldiers in the military.
Saint Valentine was a man of courage and conviction. He certainly loved others, was hospitable and lived a life of sacrifice. His example can best be imitated in charity towards other and fraternal love of those in need. When the kids and I talked about his life, they understood why hearts and candy would come to represent a life that was sweet and filled with the heart of God. Was he a romantic? I'd like to think so. Celebrate St. Valentines day with those you love by doing something special for someone who is not so lovable. The man for our times would approve. Have a very happy St. Valentines Day.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and bi-weekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her at

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