Rome, 200 A.D
His regal face was dark with rage. His army had lost yet another battle. The Gauls and the Goths were royally whipping the Roman Empire’s ass. Everyone was talking about him as a weak king. He had to do something to salvage his reputation. Ah! Here was the man responsible for his loss of face. His General: ‘Maximus’!
A tall powerful looking man walked in with his head hung shamefacedly. “So our army bites the dust yet again? What excuses do you have this time?”
There was something in Emperor Claudius’ tone that scared him. Today the emperor clearly meant business. One wrong move and Maximus could easily find himself without a head. He had to make his moves carefully and weigh every word he said.
“Sir, the soldiers no longer have the old spirit. They are going softer by the day. They no longer fight like men. They run and cower and hide!”
“And isn’t it your job to make men of them? What have you been doing, you wretch?” Claudius growled.
Maximus could see a murderous glint in the emperor’s eye. Today the emperor definitely sought a head at the altar of the shameful defeat. He had to somehow deflect the king’s rage towards someone else. But who could be the ideal victim? Not one of his soldiers. That would further dent their already sagging morale and would be a sure shot recipe for yet another defeat. Not one of the nobles either. They would have powerful families and friends. He could not afford to make that kind of enemies, especially when his fortunes were on a downturn.
Then suddenly he had a brainwave. That pesky priest of that new religion! He was just the kind of person he needed. A soft target! He had been annoying people by preaching all funny weird ideas. People would enjoy seeing how the lions at the circus find his words. He was too weak to fight back and had no one to stand up for him.
“My emperor, it is all the doing of that new priest. It is because of him that our men have taken to wearing petticoats and skirts. He has been secretly getting the soldiers married. He preaches love, compassion and other ideas of womanly weakness to them. I think he is an agent sent by our enemies to destroy our army from within.”
“Off with his head,” roared Claudius. Phew! That had been close! Maximus sighed a breath of relief as he gave the orders to the soldiers to arrest the priest.
London, 800 A.D
The Cardinal looked majestic in all his ceremonial attire. But his brow was knitted and he had a worried expression on his face. An intelligent faced deacon stood by him with an equally grave expression.
“So many years have passed and we still have not been able to fully stamp out this pagan religion. As long as the pagan religion thrives, there is always a threat of the people going back to old way en masse one day. So many good Christians also still hold on to some of those vulgar old pagan rituals. It is so sad.”
“That is true, his holiness. Some of the ancient ways are so entrenched in the psyche of the people that they just don’t seem to be able to let go of them?”
“So what do we do, my dear deacon? I especially find this fertility ritual so disgusting and un-Christian!”
The Cardinal’s face was filled with loathing. The deacon paused for a while. He seemed to be deep in thought. Then he said, “Maybe we have been approaching the problem the wrong way.”
“What do you mean, my good deacon?”
“If we cannot beat them, maybe be we should join them.”
The cardinal’s face flushed red in fury. “What? You mean give up the ways of Christ and start rolling on the hay with wenches like those God forsaken pagans?”
The deacon continued, “No, my holiness. Not at all! What I meant is if we cannot stop the ritual, why not make it part of our Christian myth? People are any ways going to continue doing it. That way the people will not feel compelled to choose between their rituals and Christianity.”
The cardinal’s expression cleared a bit. “Interesting! You have a point. We need to be pragmatic and be ready to make some sacrifices to preserve the core of our faith. How do your propose to do it?”
“We need a saint, a martyr to associate with the day and a good story to tell the people. I am still on the lookout for one.”
By now the cardinal was excited. “Your search ends here, then. I know just our man. The people in Rome tell the tale of a priest who was executed by the Roman emperor for preaching the message of love. He would be just right for our cause.”
“That is great, my Holiness. Let us canonize him and make him a Saint and name the fertility day in his honor. What was his name, by the way?”
“Well. There seems to be no name mentioned in the myths.”
“No problem, your Holiness. If he does not have a name, let us give him one. After all what’s in a name? A rose smells as sweet under any other name. A saint gives out as much holy aura under any other name. What was the name of the person who told you about the story of this priest?”
“It was one of those serving chaps at the Vatican. His name was Valentine I believe! A bit dull in the head, but good at telling stories!”
“Then Saint Valentine, he shall be. Our dear saint, who laid down his life for the cause of love six hundred years back! And henceforth let us call this day Valentine’s Day.”
Click here to read the rest of the story on how Valentine's day evolved and finally came to India.
Picture Source: Wikipedia