Going back in time to understand Valentine’s Day

​To the present generation in Sydney, and probably the world over, Valentine's Day is synonymous with saccharine sweet expressions of love and romance that will leave you on a metaphorical sugar-high by the end of the day. 

Some say it with flowers, some with chocolates, some with jewellery while some digress from the traditional script with a romantic candle-lit dinner aboard a Sydney Harbour Valentine's day dinner cruise. 

But, as always there are skeptics who question the relevance of the celebration, though most people don't really want to understand the how and why of it and simply go with the flow! 

The history behind how 14th February came to be celebrated as a day of love and romance is a little blur, but there are interesting legends that stem from the life and death of a kindly 3rd century Roman bishop named Valentine, who was later canonised by Pope Gelasius.

Legend has it that St. Valentine attracted the disfavor of the then Roman Emperor Claudius II, primarily because he conducted secret marriage ceremonies for soldiers, opposing the Emperor's edict that prohibited marriage for young able-bodied men.

The Golden Age of the Roman Empire was fading into oblivion during the rule of Claudius II as it had grown too large and was subject to external threats and internal strife and aggression. The number of capable soldiers and officers required to protect the nation was insurmountable. According to Claudius, marriage weakened soldiers as they are saddled with too much personal and emotional baggage. His solution to the problem was to ban marriage for all strong and capable men to ensure high quality soldiers.

The Romans were shocked beyond disbelief. The injustice of the decree affected all young lovers, but nobody dared raise their voice in protest. Valentine, a bishop then, saw the helplessness of couples in love and realized how unjust the edict was.

He decided to secretly join lovers in Holy Matrimony without the knowledge of the emperor and soon came to be known as the 'friend of lovers'. But it wasn't before long that Claudius came to know that Valentine was flouting his orders and had him arrested.

While in prison, Valentine's jailor requested him to use his healing powers to help restore the sight of his blind daughter. With strong faith and prayer, Valentine was able to help the jailor's daughter and they became good friends.

Claudius II was impressed with the dignity and the conviction of Valentine and promised to spare his life if he turned to Roman gods. But Valentine refused to budge from his Christian faith and convictions. This angered Claudius, who eventually ordered the execution of Valentine. 

Legend has it that before he was taken to be executed he wrote a farewell note to the jailor's daughter, signing off as 'From Your Valentine', a phrase that stands strong even today! Valentine is believed to have been executed on 14th February 270 AD, and when he was canonised 14 February came to be known as St. Valentine's Day.

This version of the legend comes closest to a plausible explanation of why the modern world celebrates Valentine's Day as a day of love. The cherubic cupid shooting arrows poisoned with love into the hearts of unsuspecting youngsters probably symbolic at best because Cupid was the Roman God of Love!

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Saturday, 30 September 2023

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