Saint Valentine – yes, he really did exist
I admit to being more than slightly cynical about the amount of money that is raked in each year by greetings card manufacturer’s, florists and restaurants as the nation celebrates St Valentine’s day. Briefly, this amounted in the UK to 25 million cards (apparently some people send more than one) and £1.3 billion spent on presents last year. If you want a detailed breakdown on the UK expenditure on cards, the Greetings Card Association (never one to miss a trick) will happily supply you with one for £750 (+vat). Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that there are several companies who will offer their advice and expertise (for a suitable price) on how their clients can best capitalise the market.
This left me thinking, who was St Valentine and what was so special about him? The simple answer is, we know very little. Valentine was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius II, between 269 and 280 AD. His crime was converting people to Christianity and caring for those who had been persecuted. Even whilst in prison, he converted 46 members of a guard’s family to Christianity. This is similar to Paul and Silas (Acts 16) who were in prison when an earthquake caused the prison doors to open and their chains to fall off. They did not run away and when the guard discovered what had happened he fell at their feet and asked ‘What must I do to be saved?’ That night the guard and all his family were baptised. Sadly, Valentine was not so fortunate; when Claudius found out what he had done he immediately ordered his execution.
Another variation of the legend of St. Valentine says he refused to sacrifice to pagan gods, was imprisoned and while imprisoned he healed the jailer’s blind daughter. On the day of his execution, he left the girl a note signed, “Your Valentine.”
So, following my initial cynicism, I have come to admire St. Valentine. He was sincere, kind and by following in the footsteps of Jesus, he showed himself to be a true disciple, being without fear, even the fear of his own death.
Now we know that St. Valentine really existed and was worthy of his sainthood, we return to the cards. The practice of sending Valentine’s greetings dates back to the Middle Ages, when suitors would sing or recite a romantic verse to their love (those were the days!). The earliest known Valentine’s message was sent in 1477 in the form of a letter penned by one Margery Brews to a John Paston, who she described as ‘my right well beloved Valentine’. However, it wasn’t until the 1500s that written Valentine’s messages were exchanged in Europe and started to prove popular in England. By 1723, Valentine’s Day messages were more common and usually took the form of a written note with a special verse or religious saying. The current torrent of Valentine’s cards began in the Victorian age, as they started to become more mass produced.
So, may you choose and give your card / gift / flowers / meal with kindness and sincerity and may you be truly blessed for your actions.