Valentine’s name is everywhere again this week. Cash registers are ringing up sales of greeting cards, chocolates, roses, lingerie and perfumes this week all over Europe and beyond. Not a bad business, in both senses of the word.
So it is good to be reminded again who this Valentine was. A casanova or loverboy from ages past? Actually, no.
Valentine’s story was no more romantic than that of the tens of thousands of Christians killed, wounded or forced to flee Syria for their faith in recent years. For the unfortunate Valentine was an early Christian martyr, executed by Roman Emperor Claudius II. The very brief vita of St Valentine has him executed for refusing to deny Christ by the order of the “Emperor Claudius” in the year 269. Before his head was cut off, this Valentine restored sight and hearing to the daughter of his jailer. One legend claims he left her a note signed, “Your Valentine”.
The Nuremberg Chronicle (1493) states that he was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius Gothicus. His crime was marrying Christian couples so that the husbands wouldn’t have to go to war. However Claudius took a liking to this prisoner, but when Valentine tried to convert the Emperor, he was condemned to death. After beatings with clubs and stones, he was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate in Rome.
Sentimental but fabricated glosses have been added to his story in more recent times to link his name with the celebration of romantic love.
Thanks to some guy named Geoffrey in the 14th century, Valentine’s burial day, February 14, has become a global festivity of passion. Geoffrey Chaucer, famous for his Canterbury Tales, wrote a poem on the first anniversary of the royal engagement between the King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, both only 14 at the time! Chaucer linked the engagement date with the saint’s day, which in turn coincided with the beginning in mid-February of the natural mating season. This was then associated with the romance of Valentine.
For this was on seynt Volantynys day Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.
[“For this was Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”]
Now thanks to another guy named Richard (British, but not a king), the whole week leading up to Valentine’s Day is being celebrated in many countries as Marriage Week, encouraging couples to invest time and attention into their relationship.
Former YWAMer Richard Kane was standing at the cash register in a home improvement centre. Observing the large amounts of money couples were spending on improving their homes, he wondered how much they were investing in their relationships together.
That thought became the driving force behind a movement that began in his native England in 1996 before spreading across the channel to Germany, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Holland, Hungary, Belgium and Ireland, as well as across the Atlantic Ocean. Richard’s goal is 75 nations by 2021.
If you are fortunate to be in a marriage, you should look after it, Richard often says. His idea was to encourage all sorts of activities, articles and attention focusing on the strengthening of the marriage relationship. Divorce is costing British taxpayers at least £7 billion each year, research has shown. It’s good sense for governments to invest in good marriages, he argues.
Richard is convinced that marital love, nurtured by time and attention, can continue to shape a much better Europe. Research on the consequences of divorce, commissioned by the Dutch Marriage Week committee Holland, showed that children of divorced parents were twice as likely to experience divorce themselves, and were also twice as susceptible to psychological problems.
This prompted a Christian member of the Dutch parliament to ask in official question time if the government was prepared to make marriage courses tax-free, as are divorce costs. Also the secular weekly, Elsevier, ran a six-page cover story announcing that marriage makes one healthier, happier and richer!
Thanks to some photographer from a national television guide, this Jeffrey had to do all sorts of silly poses for a photo to accompany an interview with his wife, the national project coordinator for Marriage Week in the Netherlands.
What one does for love!
(adapted from weekly word, Feb 13, 2012)
Till next week,