Valentine’s day brings up different images and affections for each person. There are red and pink hearts, cupids with bows and arrows, but also microwave dinners for one, and discounted chocolate. I’ve never been one to hate on Valentine’s day, even when I was alone or unable to fulfill the made up expectations of the day. But the impression I conjure when thinking of Valentine’s Day may differ slightly from most as it includes beheadings, whips, and bees.
While it might sound like I’ve had some truly horrible Valentine’s Day dates to associate the holiday with decapitations and stings, Saint Valentine is actually my confirmation saint and is where some of my thoughts on the day originated.
Saints have always fascinated me and learning about them as a child ultimately led to my fascination with Greek and Norse mythology later in life. There are many tales and legends that have similar counterparts in several religions and mythologies. The story of Valentine’s Day is no different.
In Catholicism, and probably some other orthodox religions, there are 7 sacraments. These sacraments are basically rites of passage or a sort of initiation ceremony. Baptism is the first sacrament where your parents initiate you into Catholicism.
When you’re older, you can complete a confirmation ceremony where you “confirm” your initiation. It’s basically like your parents dressing you in LA Dodgers jerseys as a baby and then you grow up and buy your own Dodgers jersey confirming your fan status or crush them by buying an Angel’s fit instead.
There are steps you have to take to have a confirmation like attending catechism which is Sunday school, taking a test about the bible, and confessing all of your crimes to a stranger behind a screen, etc. The last step is choosing a patron saint or protector to guide you through the rest of your life.
My best friend at the time was born on St. Patrick’s day so she chose Saint Patrick. I started researching officially recognized saints and landed on Saint Valentine partly to match with her but also for the following reasons:
- He was mysterious
Little is confirmable about this 3rd-century saint, but it is thought there were two men in different Italian cities ministering to persecuted Christians. Both named Valentine and both ultimately martyred. It would take a few days to travel between the two cities, but it is doable. Was Saint Valentine leading a double life? Did he travel between cities to evade arrest? Why use the same name if you’re on the run? We may never know.
- He was a rebel and a romantic
He broke the law by helping Christian couples wed in secret. Sometimes even performing marriages to help Christian men avoid being drafted into the army. Legend says he cut hearts from parchment to remind these men of their vows and God’s love. Very “stick it to the man” and “love always wins” vibes.
- He was tortured and beheaded for his crimes
The Roman Catholic Church recognizes him as a saint and a martyr. It is said he was imprisoned various times. The most popular story being while he was under house arrest of Judge Asterius. In typical “if your belief is so great, prove it” fashion, Asterius challenged Valentine to heal his blind daughter. According to legend, he did and Asterius and his 44-member household converted to Christianity immediately. After that, Valentine flew too close to the sun by trying to convert the literal Roman Emperor who had taken a liking to Valentine. Clearly Valentine was charming, but not quite enough and was condemned to death. It is said Valentine sent a note to Asterius’ daughter before his death and signed, “from your Valentine,” which is where we get the concept of sending valentine notes. It is said he was beaten with clubs and stones and when he survived, Emperor Claudius commanded he be beheaded. What a way to go!
- He is the patron saint of epilepsy, couples, beekeepers, and plague
Something for everyone really. It seems if you were alive in the 3rd century and you weren’t getting engaged, you were probably suffering from some disease or making honey. It’s not totally clear how he came to be the patron saint of this eclectic mix of things, but I am here for it.
- And last but not least, there is a flower-crowned, alleged, skull of Saint Valentine exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Rome and it is so metal. This is the coolest religious relic I have seen and based on everything I’ve learned about Saint Valentine, it is quite fitting.
It’s interesting to think about the common American holidays and where they originated from. As is the case with many holidays, Valentine’s Day has pagan roots as well.
Similar to the story of Saint Valentine, our pagan story begins a couple of centuries earlier in the same city of Rome. One of the most famous Roman myths regarding its founding is the story of Romulus and Remus.
The story starts with twin sons born to a virgin and a king, said to be fathered by the Roman god Mars. The king, threatened by the possible usurp of his power by his sons, had them abandoned on the bank of the river Tiber to die. According to the myth, the river god Tiberinus saved them by taking them to a cave called Lupercalia to be mothered by a she-wolf. This location was said to be the birth of Rome.
Lupercalia later became a pastoral festival in Ancient Rome celebrated on February 15 to purify the city and promote fertility. If you think Saint Valentine was wild, you’ll be horrified or fascinated to learn this festival involves animal sacrifice and the whipping of women. Naked men would sacrifice goats and dogs, then take strips of hide and use it to whip young women. Apparently, barren women and women interested in bearing children were really into this because they believed it promoted fertility. So I guess it’s kinda romantic?
Fun fact: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix did an episode celebrating Lupercalia where witches and warlocks spent a lusty night in the forest.
So however you feel about the holiday, I hope this enlightens some other ways to celebrate. It doesn’t have to be all chocolate and candy hearts. You can help friends sneak out to see their belle or beau in honor of Saint Valentine, you can have some goat tacos and (with consent!) give your valentine a love tap or you can have a midnight, romantic picnic in your local forest. Whatever you choose to do, I wish you love and blessings.