Two days ago, we all celebrated, in typically gaudy secular fashion, the Feast of St. Valentine. Well, I suppose, most of us, or, many of us celebrated - I'm sure there are some out there who did not so much celebrate as use the occasion to heap scorn and anger on the opposite sex. But, that's okay - there's room in this celebration for, um, all manner of expressions.
But, seriously, when I was younger, Valentine's Day was little more than the fifth of six "Great Food Holidays". Starting with Halloween, and going up through Easter, it seems like every month or so there's a holiday among whose chief characteristics is food ... or candy ... or, of course, in the case of New Year's, beverage. As I grew older, Valentine's Day was marked by the hope of, and, later, the celebration of, romance and relationships. And, of course, for the last 22 years, Valentine's Day has been another opportunity to remind my lovely wife of how important she is to me, and how great the life is that we've built together.
But, it turns out, Valentine's Day is, in the vernacular of the Roman Catholic Church, the feast of St. Valentin of Rome. Valentin was a priest and, probably, a bishop in the region of Terni, Narnia (no, not THAT Narnia), and Amelia in Italy in the 3rd Century, A.D. His feast was instituted some time close to 500, A.D., and archeologists have unearthed structures and artifacts that were dedicated to him dating some time around 500. Much of his life is shrouded in doubt, because, apparently, CNN and the New York Times hadn't gotten around to opening up their Roman bureaus at that time yet. But, there are some things historians believe they know about the man. For one thing, they agree that he was executed by the Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus some time between 269 and 280 A.D. Generally speaking, they agree that his martyrdom was because he refused to renounce his faith, whether by some grand press release, or by simply sacrificing to pagan gods. Some histories hold that he was imprisoned, and, while in prison, became friends with the emperor. At some point along the way, he attempted to convert the emperor, at which point Claudius flew into a rage and had him beaten and beheaded.
I've had friends like that.
But, the reason we celebrate his life and death in the manner we do is that one of the reasons that Valentin was imprisoned was because he secretly married Christians. This was, well, in ancient Rome, a bad thing-remember, Christians of that era were known to die in the Colisseum in the jaws of lions. The exact reason he would marry them is not know, whether it was simply to confer the sacrament upon followers, or because, by marrying them, the men would not be required to go to war. Whatever the case, the act of marrying them got Valentin imprisoned, and then executed.
Quite a thing, that. To believe so strongly in the power of love that he was willing to go to his death for it.
So, whether Tuesday brought you candy and flowers and celebrations, or frustration, now you know that, at one point in history, love brought one man a beating and a beheading ... and eternal glory. Love is, indeed, a many splendored thing!
Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His novels are available at MichaelJAlcorn.com