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  • Devin O'Donnell

Happy SAINT Valentines Day!

Happy Feast Day of St. Valentine! He takes his name from the Latin adjective valens, meaning "strong," "effective, or "influential." Although there is little known about the man, we honor his martyrdom: "The feast of St. Valentine was first established in 496 by Pope Gelasius I, who included Valentine among those "...whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God." One story, that he married Christians during a time of Roman persecution, influenced the holiday, which flourished in the days of Chaucer, during the chivalric days of the courtly love of the Middle Ages.


Below we see St. Valentine present in The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme's. According to a reputable source (hehe), William T. Walters commissioned this painting in 1863, but the artist did not deliver it until 20 years later. In a letter to Walters, Gérôme identified the setting as ancient Rome's racecourse, the Circus Maximus. He noted such details as the goal posts and the chariot tracks in the dirt. The seating, however, more closely resembles that of the Colosseum, Rome's amphitheater, in which gladiatorial combats and other spectacles were held. Similarly, the hill in the background surmounted by a colossal statue and a temple is nearer in appearance to the Athenian Acropolis than it is to Rome's Palatine Hill. The artist also commented on the religious fortitude of the victims who were about to suffer martyrdom either by being devoured by the wild beasts or by being smeared with pitch and set ablaze, which also never took place in the Circus Maximus. In this instance, Gérôme, whose paintings were usually admired for their sense of reality, has subordinated historical accuracy" in order to affect a symbolic unity of the Classical Greco-Roman world.


What is important for us is that we remember that St. Valentine, popularly associated for that day of lovey-dovey sentimentalism or that commercial distortion of eroticism at worst, himself was a martyr of the Christian faith. Which is to say he resisted the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age. Which is to say, he kept himself unspotted from the world (James 1:27). Beyond his willingness to resist the state in marrying Christian couples, as tradition says, he also died for his faith. Which is to say he resisted to point of shedding his blood (Hebrews 12:4). These are our heroes. These are the ones who "in our flowing cups" are "freshly remembered," as Shakespeare says.


Here is the agenda for today.


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