So there are actually seven Saint Valentines recognized by the Catholic church. Seven!
Three are associated with (ie. were martyred on) Valentine’s Day, February 14—three!—
one, a bishop of Terni in Umbria, martyred by Emperor Aurelian (emperor from 270 to 275),
another, a martyr in the Roman province of Africa,
and finally, a priest in Rome martyred by Emperor Claudius II (emperor from 213 to 270).
According to the legenda aurea, The Golden Legend,
a popular, medieval collection of details on the lives of saints
probably assimilated by 1260—according to the legenda aurea,
the priest in Rome is said to have been arrested as a Christian,
questioned by Claudius himself, who impressed with the man,
sought to save him by having him convert to paganism (be mine).
Valentine preferred his own salvation to that offered by the emperor
and persisted in trying to convert the emperor to Christianity (be God’s),
and so was sentenced to death.
According to the stories, the priest was said
to have healed his jailer’s blind daughter before his execution.
The ties of the day to romantic love came late in the game.
Some look back to Chaucer, and specifically to the love birds
of his Parlement of Foules in 1382.
Later still, it was suggested that the priest, Valentine, in Rome,
married couples at a time when the emperor forbid marriage
in the belief that he needed single, unattached men for his armies.
It wasn’t until the mid-1900’s though that American Greetings,
the big greeting card company, would suggest that Valentinus
sent the jailer’s daughter a letter signed (can you believe it?)
“From your Valentine.”
The way faith was gradually subtracted from
and romantic love and sentiment added to history
makes for a fascinating story of extremely effective marketing,
but it (as extremely effective marketing often does)
minimizes the challenge of abundant living (and loving)
for the far easier rhetoric of sentimental living (and loving).
A good thought with which to approach Transfiguration Sunday, no?
So it’s not just good, but it’s also important,
on this day of greeting card sentiment—this day of sweet nothings murmured—
to remember that the original commitment
was about words of faith and commitment made flesh even unto death.
It’s good and important to remember that Valentine, or Valentinus,
was not an uncommon name back in the days—
a name derived from the word valens,
meaning worthy, strong, powerful.
And it’s good and important to remember
there are seven Saint Valentines and three associated with this particular day.
In the Hebrew tradition and the Scriptural one,
three and seven are numbers less concerned with numeric value than with symbolic.
They represent the perfect number …
which is to say,
the seven Valentines—as worthy, strong, powerful followers of God in the way of Jesus—
the seven Valentines (or the three)
could include us.
Happy Valentine’s Day.