A Brief History of Valentine's Day from Pastor Wes

Simpsons Valentines day.jpg

The only Valentine’s Day card I can remember the message of was actually a Valentine given to Chief Wiggum’s not-so-bright son Ralph by Lisa Simpson when she noticed that no one cared to give him a card on Valentine’s Day. Her card, featuring a locomotive train, read: “I Choo-Choo-Choose You, Happy Valentines.” While this made for yet another hilarious episode of The Simpsons, it does fail, as all commercialized versions of Valentine’s Day do, to convey the deep history of this former Catholic Holy Day.

While the practice of Valentine’s Day has become almost entirely usurped by modern commercialism, it is important to note that Valentine’s Day was originally Saint Valentine’s Day—a day marked by the Catholic Church to honor two martyrs by the name of Valentine. These martyrs were buried on February 14, which became the day to honor their sacrifice for their faith. Sadly, over the course of history we lost much of the information that at one time existed about these two saints, and February 14 and the High Holy day of Saint Valentine’s Day became increasing associated with love. This developed as authors increasingly saw the middle day of the second month of the year as the day when birds found their mate:

For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne's day

Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.

—Chaucer's Parliament of Foules (1382)

And, cousin mine, upon Monday is Saint Valentine's Day and every bird chooses himself a mate, and if it like you to come on Thursday night, and make provision that you may abide till then, I trust to God that ye shall speak to my husband and I shall pray that we may bring the matter to a conclusion.

—Dame Elizabeth Brews, a letter included in the Paston Letters (1477)

With this increasing sense of Saint Valentine’s Day being a day for lovers, more and more of the original history of the two Valentine martyrs was lost. Eventually, even the Catholic Church released this Holy Day to the secular world. In the 1960's the Catholic Church did a major revision of her teachings known as Vatican II, and the Calendar of the Saints was revised whereby Saint Valentine’s Day was removed with the following reasoning: “Though the memorial of Saint Valentine is ancient, it is left to particular calendars, since, apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14.”

And so on this day that we celebrate love, we also pause to remember two saints whose memory has been all but lost. But even with the loss of details we can be grateful and thankful for two men of faith who so believed in their God and so proudly loved Christ that they gave their lives for the sake of that adoration. And that is the kind of love the Church can and should strive to emulate both today and every day.