The influence of Christianity on our civilization is such that even secular-seeming holidays like Halloween and Valentine’s Day derive, if indirectly, from the church. St. Valentine’s Day is a curious one, a celebration of romantic love. I think this is a good thing to celebrate, but why do we do it, and what’s the connection with St. Valentine?
St. Valentine was a martyr for the faith, giving his life for his Christian convictions during the Roman persecutions. (I hope someone is recording the names of the martyrs who are giving their lives for their Christian convictions during the current Islamic persecutions. We should put their names on the Christian calendar too.)
But why is St. Valentine associated with romantic love? You will hear stories that he secretly presided over weddings for Roman soldiers, despite the Emperor’s forbidding of marriage. And that he gave a message–some say, shaped like a heart–to his jailer’s daughter, signing it, “your Valentine.” You might hear other accounts of why he became the patron saint of lovers.
But those stories are late additions to the saint’s legend. They were added after St. Valentine’s Day was already associated with love, the first time being in the 1380s.
I have an alternative explanation. [Read more…]