Saint Valentine, an Italian doctor who later became a priest, inspired the creation of the Valentine’s Day holiday. Believers say God worked through his life to teach people how to recognize and experience true love. Here are 4 lessons on love from St. Valentine’s inspiring life:
Valentine, who lived during the 3rd century AD, performed weddings for couples during a time when new marriages were outlawed in ancient Rome. He was so concerned about the injustice of keeping loving couples apart that he risked his freedom in order to marry them.
Valentine became famous for marrying couples who were in love but couldn’t get legally married in Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius II. Claudius wanted to recruit lots of men to be soldiers in his army and thought that marriage would be an obstacle to recruiting new soldiers. He also wanted to prevent his existing soldiers from getting married because he thought that marriage would distract them from their work. So he made weddings illegal. When Claudius discovered that Valentine was performing weddings, he sent Valentine to jail.
While he was in jail, Valentine agreed to tutor a blind child named Julia, the daughter of his jailer, Asterious. He became friends with the man who imprisoned him, choosing kindness over bitterness. He spent lots of time and energy kindly working with Julia, whom others had cruelly taunted because of her blindness.
Valentine and Julia developed a close friendship over the times she came to visit him in jail. She grew more confident and did well academically because she had someone willing to invest in her life despite her disability.
After Claudius sentenced Valentine to die, Valentine didn’t sink down into self-absorption in the face of his upcoming execution. Instead, he thought of Julia, and how he could comfort her.
Valentine wrote a last note to encourage Julia to stay close to Jesus Christ and to thank her for being his friend. He signed the note: “From your Valentine.” That note inspired people to begin writing their own loving messages to people on Valentine’s Feast Day, February 14th, which is celebrated on the same day on which Valentine was martyred.
Living in a society that persecuted Christians, Valentine’s open devotion to Jesus Christ was dangerous. Valentine said that his faith inspired and empowered him to love others as God wanted them to be loved. On February 14, 270, Valentine was killed for refusing to renounce his faith and worship the Roman gods instead. He was beaten and stoned first, and then beheaded.
People who remembered his loving service to many young couples began celebrating his life, and he came to be regarded as a saint through whom God had worked to help people in miraculous ways. By 496, Pope Gelasius designated February 14th as Valentine’s official feast day.
Now people all over the world remember Valentine’s life on the day of his death. The loving ways he chose to live inspired the creation of a holiday to celebrate love. It has been many centuries since Valentine’s lifetime, but his enduring influence shows that the impact of real love can go on and on!
Whitney Hopler works as Communications Director at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being (CWB) and has written for many media organizations, from About.com to the Washington Post. Connect with Whitney on Twitter and connect with CWB on Twitter and Facebook.