Chocolates, flowers, and martyrdom: happy St. Valentine’s Day

By Thomas S. Cooney

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Soon, many of the students around Granite Hills will celebrate St. Valentine’s Day, complete with chocolates and flowers and gifts. No martyrdom in sight! While the holiday has taken on a loving mood in modern times, the story behind it is very different.

St. Valentine (or Valentinus in Latin) was one of the earliest saints of the Catholic Church, martyred sometime in between 269 and 280 A.D. Thus, very little is actually known about him. He was martyred by the command of the Emperor Claudius, and buried on the Via Flaminia. These are the only confirmed facts about his life. In any way. At all.

In fact, so little is known about him, it is a complete mystery why he is associated with love. Many legends exist about his martyrdom, detailing how he cured his jailer’s daughter of blindness and was beaten with clubs before being beheaded, but there is nothing to connect him with love, unless one considers being beaten to death an expression of love.

The love connection only emerges in late 14th century England, with Geoffrey Chaucer creating many of the modern legends associated with St. Valentine. The common legend relating the tale that St. Valentine performed marriages for Christians in defiance of the Emperor’s orders has no basis in history, and can’t be taken as truth. Really, St. Valentine would be better as the patron saint of the unknown and obscure.

St. Valentine’s fate is symbolic for the entirety of the early church, the history of which has mainly been lost through persecution and the winds of time. So while you are thinking about your Valentine this February 14, or wishing you had one, take a few moments to think about the thousands thrown to lions, crucified, flayed, crushed by elephants, impaled, shot with arrows, beaten, beheaded, starved, stoned, and slaughtered in every possible way! Happy Valentine’s Day!