Last Friday I celebrated the feast day of a third century Roman saint. I didn’t go to church, burn a candle, say a prayer, or take communion. But nor did most of this countries husbands and wives and lovers. They bought flowers, and cards, and broke bread together. And it’s easy to mock those who fall for the commercial sting that is St Valentine’s Day. Easy to dismiss an ancient festival, that may have it’s origins in pagan worship. Easy to say it was invented by card manufactures; when it wasn’t.
St Valentine or Valentinus as he was known in the third century, is lost to us. On the 14th February he was martyred on Via Flaminia in the north of Rome. And that’s about all we know about him. He’s on the Catholic Churches list of officially recognized saints for local veneration; the Anglican, Lutheran and Orthodox Churches all recognise him. So he’s the real deal; not some capitalists dream.
Valentinus died for his beliefs. He died because the persecution of Christians was an empire wide sport before Constantine adopted Christianity. The early Christians perplexed the pagan world. They happily embraced death; no matter how horrific. Sometimes they sought out martyrdom because it venerated Jesus Christ. Because they were certain of meeting God.
People like Valentinus were executed because they were considered a threat. Because they believed in things like: Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Two millennia have passed. His persecutors empire has crumbled into dust. Christianity is a global religion. In Western Europe, people are no longer put to death. Yet in Britain a million children go to school hungry. Families who rely on food banks are called lazy. People born into privilege and wealth, accumulate more wealth.
I don’t know what Valentinus would make of a bunch of millionaires persecuting the sick, poor and disabled. But I do know whose side he’d be on.