Shrine of St Valentine, Whitefriar St, Dublin, Church of the Carmelite Friars, (OCarm)
For a number of years I have been campaigning to put the 'SAINT' back into St Valentine's Day, eg, here, here and here. I was delighted, therefore, to read this essay in today's issue of The Irish Times. It is by 15-year-old Emma Tobin of Holy Faith Secondary School, Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland.
I could talk all day about love, because in every book I read and in every movie I watch someone tries to tell me what it is. Most of these don’t come close to what love means to me, so I ignore them, but I remember a certain series of books that captured for me the shyness of young love and the certainty of true love.
Alas, I am not referring to any works by JK Rowling, but rather the man behind February 14th, the man whose name is thrown around but whose life is seldom remembered. Instead of preaching about what love is, I am going to tell you what we are truly saying when we write, in poorly disguised handwriting, “From your Valentine.”
St Valentine was a priest outside Rome in AD 270. He provided the sacraments to Christians at a time when the church was enduring massive persecution.
He was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers in the army and for practising Christianity.
What transpired during his imprisonment is the subject of much debate, and many say that we know nothing of St Valentine apart from the fact that he was buried in the Via Flaminia on February 14th.
There is also some consensus that he was martyred for his beliefs. This was not his belief that people should have the right to be in love, but that they should have the right to be married.
There are some accounts of St Valentine being interrogated by Emperor Claudius II, and of Claudius taking an interest in Valentine and urging him to convert to the polytheist religion of the Roman Empire. The same accounts also speak of St Valentine in turn trying to convert Claudius to Christianity, and say it was for this that he was ultimately sentenced to death.
True to form, he didn’t huddle defeated in his cell; he created a tradition that endures to this day. The jailer Asterius’s daughter was blind and St Valentine is said to have written a letter to the girl signed “From your Valentine”.
Another tradition has it that he cut out hearts in parchment and gave them to persecuted Christians to remind them of God’s love.
Our modern St Valentine’s Day may bear little resemblance to the aspirations of the man who gives it its name, but it is all that remains of a man who was brave, and who believed in human rights enough to die for them. We could do with taking a leaf from his book by respecting the human rights of others.
So today, when you’re dotting your i’s with jaunty little hearts, remember the man who died because he believed in the right of those who chose to do so to wear a ring on their finger proclaimimg their love for another person, in their right to let the world know who they loved enough to bind themselves together in sickness and in health, for rich or for poor, as long as they both shall live.
Happy St Valentine’s Day.