Christian Living

BibleArcheology 02/07/11

Valentine, Constantine, and the Roman She-Wolf

Valentine's Day is here, and if you made the unfortunate decision to meet your online match that night, you may find your conversation hitting an awkward silence somewhere between the drink order and the appetizers.

That's why I have your back. Keep reading for an array of information that will either impress your date or send him or her running back to the archives of Match.com. Here's everything you never wanted to know about Valentine's Day: use it as you wish.
First of all, be sure to wish your date a Happy Lupercalia (that's Latin for "Wolf Festival"). If you lived in Rome on February 14 about 2,000 years ago, you would have been celebrating the pagan festival held in honor of Lupa, the legendary she-wolf who suckled the infant orphans, Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome.

And to make sure that visitors to Rome will never forget that story, the Italians have placed pictures, sculptures and statues of the two human babies feeding from their wolf-mother on every street corner, which is enough to put anyone off Valentine's Day. Or wolves. Or nursing babies.

Roman Christians, quite understandably, were not about to raise a toast to the Roman She-Wolf Baby Mama, so instead they played the centuries-long game of "Christianize the Roman Holiday," and St. Valentine won the holiday lottery. Congratulations, St. Val -- the She-Wolf Festival is all yours.

Here's more on the story of St. Valentine -- or rather the three-man composite that made up the now-famous Catholic legend. Most accounts say that he was beheaded "outside the Flaminian Gate in Rome," which today is near the entrance of one my favorite art museums, the Galleria Borghese. And right in the entry hall of the museum? You guessed it. Statues of Romulus, Remus and their wolf-mother.

Now back to St. Valentine. The current Roman Martyrology (the Catholics' Big Book of Martyrs) records that he was buried near the Milvian Bridge, which spans Rome's Tiber River.

Today, the Milvian Bridge is famous for two reasons: first, it's the place where Emperor Constantine won the decisive battle that turned Rome into a Christian empire in AD 312.  Here's a fun story about the battle that aired on The 700 Club.

While we were shooting that story, I learned the other reason for the fame of the Milvian Bridge. In 2006, an Italian novelist, inspired by the legend of Valentine's murder near the bridge, wrote about a couple who hung a padlock on one of the bridge's lampposts, then threw the key into the Tiber River as a symbol of their undying love.

Can you see where this story is going next? A year after the book was published, so many couples had hung locks on the Milvian Bridge that the lampposts collapsed and had to be reinforced.

Today, panhandlers on the bridge still sell padlocks to gullible tourists. Trying to film a story about Constantine and the epic battle for Christianity without getting the "locks of love" in the shot was a challenge. There was an old Pat Benatar song about love being a battlefield running through my head the whole time. Come on, you know you were thinking it.

Today, several churches, including one in Ireland, claim to have the remains of St. Valentine (after all, what kind of church are you if you're not stashing the remains of some famous saint or apostle?).  While there is no sound history or archaeology supporting the whereabouts of St. Valentine's corpse-- or even, quite frankly, the saccharine romance of his life story -- the message of love is a good one.

Now, without further help from Constantine, Valentine, or the Roman She-Wolf, I'm going to leave you with the most powerful words I know about love. This is the blueprint for the way God loves you and me, and the way we were intended to love each other -- parents, siblings, spouses, friends and even our enemies. So... read on and have a Happy Roman She-Wolf Day. Or Possibly-Fictional Martyr Day. Whatever you celebrate, do it with love.

    Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love,
I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.
    And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge...
    And though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
    Love suffers long and is kind.
    Love does not envy.
    Love does not parade itself, is not puffed up.    
    Love does not behave rudely, does not seek its own,
    Love is not provoked, thinks no evil.
    Love does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth.
    Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
    Love never fails.
    But whether there are prophecies, they will fail;    
    Whether there are tongues, they will cease;    
    Whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
    For we know in part and we prophesy in part.     
    But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
    For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face.
    Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
    And now abide faith, hope, love, these three...
    But the greatest of these is love.

About This Blogger

Latest Blog Entries

Give Now