I just love learning the history behind holidays! I find it amazingly beautiful to discover that so many of the "special days" we see on our calendars are actually celebrations that began in the early days of the Church. Celebrations that were designed to honor Christ - either directly (as with Christmas and Easter) or indirectly, through the well-lived lives of faithful Christians.
Did you know Valentine's Day is one such holiday? I sure didn't, until last year when I began to read up on its history a little bit. Here's what I found....
This little holiday might be one of the most ancient of Christian feast days! It was first established, by the Church, in the year 496. In those times, the Roman government was severely persecuting Christians, forbidding them to practice their Faith, and many, many were martyred. Valentinus must have been a popular name back then, because there were several early Christian martyrs by that name....and February 14 was the day chosen to remember their courage and faithfulness!
According to Wikipedia...
Numerous early Christian martyrs were named Valentine. The Valentines honored on February 14 are Valentine of Rome (Valentinus presb. m. Romae) and Valentine of Terni (Valentinus ep. Interamnensis m. Romae). Valentine of Rome was a priest in Rome who was martyred about AD 269 and was buried on the Via Flaminia. His relics are at the Church of Saint Praxed in Rome, and at Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland.
Valentine of Terni became bishop of Interamna (modern Terni) about AD 197 and is said to have been martyred during the persecution under Emperor Aurelian. He is also buried on the Via Flaminia, but in a different location than Valentine of Rome. His relics are at the Basilica of Saint Valentine in Terni (Basilica di San Valentino).
The Catholic Encyclopedia also speaks of a third saint named Valentine who was mentioned in early martyrologies under date of February 14. He was martyred in Africa with a number of companions, but nothing more is known about him.
No romantic elements are present in the original early medieval biographies of either of these martyrs.
A couple other interesting articles ::
St. Valentine's Day - A Celebration of Heroic Love
"St. Valentine" by Catholic Online
Unfortunately, very few details have been preserved about the lives of the real Valentines - except for their unwavering faithfulness to Jesus and their fellow Christians, even to the point of death.
But really, isn't that THE ultimate story of true love?
"Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15 : 13)
"Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us : and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." (1 John 3 : 16)
It is Jesus' own story of love, being re-told through the lives of men whose footsteps fully followed in His own.
"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you."
(Matthew 5 : 10 - 12)
This year, Valentine's Day has an extra-special meaning for me and my family...as we remember, first of all, God's endlessly merciful Love for us... And the overflowing Love He has graciously placed into each of our hearts - so that we can truly have and show Love for each other... And His amazing gift of Love that brings life and beauty into my marriage and my family.
But this year, we will remember, too, the living, passionate Love of so many faithful believers who have gone before us, whose very lives (and deaths!) testify - and are a witness - to the saving Truth of the Gospel of Jesus. They gave up everything out of Love for Him! May we be inspired to live our lives in light of their example to us....giving up all for Jesus' sake - and loving Him with all our hearts, minds and souls - as He so dearly deserves!
Have a Love-ly Monday! :)