Every February 14th, tons of chocolate, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. Who is this mysterious saint and how did he become associated with this ancient ritual?
Although the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred; one legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men.
It is believed that this man, our hero Mr. Valentine, realized the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.
Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl possibly his jailor’s daughter who visited him during his confinement.
Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a heartfelt letter, which he signed ‘From your Valentine’. Years and centuries after this letter was written, the expression has touched our hearts and we still use the same words of love that were used to express an emotion that has no words to explain it.
Although the truth behind the Valentine legend is foggy, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and most importantly romantic figure.
At present, every year the world remembers this man every 14th day of February by sending simple gifts, such as flowers, chocolates and cards to loved ones and secret lovers. Although Rwandans are not ‘flower people’, by far, Valentine’s Day Flowers are the most popular gift today.