For generations now, the world has celebrated holidays named after or attributed to saints: St. Valentine (whose holiday is quickly approaching), St. Nicholas (whose holiday has recently past), St. Patrick, etc. However, their original stories are not well known. Instead, the saints have been fictionalized and present-day holidays now have little to do with the saint they were initially ascribed to. In addition to this, the reason these people became saints is overlooked. How and why were they chosen to bear this title? Below, the original stories (pieced together through the fog of unwritten history and legend) of the three most prominent saints in America are revealed. The most recent person to be dubbed a saint is Mother Teresa, and the process of gaining this standing will be displayed following her story.
There are several legends about the true Valentine; one goes like this:
Claudius II was the Roman Emperor during Valentine’s lifetime, and he was convinced that young soldiers would be more willing to die for the Roman cause if they had no family to return to. Claudius, therefore, issued an edict prohibiting early marriage. He would have preferred it, as was becoming popular in that time, if young people had polygamous relationships (those with more than one person). Valentine, however, encouraged monogamous marriage for young Christians and would often defy Claudius, performing ceremonies in the church away from the eye of the government. Many scholars attribute the continued existence and popularity of monogamy to Valentine.
Valentine’s actions did not go unnoticed for long, and he was soon captured and tortured for his insubordination. It is said that while in prison, Valentine fell in love with the jailor’s daughter and sent her the first valentine, signed with the classic phrase, “From your Valentine.”
Ultimately, Valentine was beheaded for his faith, after trying to convert Emperor Claudius himself to Christianity.
Valentine is now known as the patron saint of engaged couples, bee keepers, epilepsy and fainting victims, love, the plague, and young people (that’s you!).
Though Nicholas was a Christian bishop, his original life’s story, which has morphed into the legend of Santa Claus, has little to do with the birth of Christ or even giving presents to loved ones.
Nicolas inherited a fortune from his parents, who died when Nicolas was young. He was reared by his Christian uncle and became a bishop.
In the village where he ministered, Nicholas heard tell of a man with three daughters who had become desperately poor and was on the verge of selling his children into prostitution to keep them alive.
Nicholas crept up to the man’s house one knight and tossed a purse of gold into an open window. The bride dowry for the oldest girl was therefore paid. St. Nicholas continued to give gold in secrecy until all of the daughters had been married. On Nicholas’ last visit, the father of the three had stayed awake to listen for the sounds of the approaching old St. Nick, witnessed his generosity, and began the legend of a man who brings gifts in the night to children.
When Patrick was 14, living in Britain, he was kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery in the land of Ireland, where he was to herd sheep for the rest of his life.
The land was filled with pagans and magicians, but Patrick turned to God and prayed continuously for six years. One night he dreamed that God was telling him to run to the coast.
When Patrick did so, he found a ship waiting and was able to gain passage to Britain, soon to be reunited with his family.
Patrick became a bishop in Britain, where he received another vision from God. This vision depicted the people of Ireland calling him to return to them to preach.
He returned to the land that had enslaved him and against much opposition established churches and preached for 40 years. At some points, he would pluck a four-leafed clover, the Irish symbol for luck, from the grass, and use the iconic shamrock to explain the holy trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as one).
At age 18, Mary Teresa joined a community of nuns and was soon sent to be a missionary in India. Teresa taught in St. Mary’s High School in Calcutta; however, she was drawn outside of the walls of the school by the immense poverty she witnessed in the slums. She was permitted to leave the school, and without funds began to teach the poorest of the poor, eventually establishing the order of the “Missionaries of Charity,” which is still functioning today, 20 years after her death.
To become a saint, as the four individuals above have done, one must be declared one by the current pope after a rigorous investigation into the individual’s life. There are two requirements: one, the individual in question must have led a holy life worthy of imitation, or been martyred, or cast off an unholy lifestyle to pursue a godly one. Two, the individual must have two miracles attributed to him or her after their death. In other words, someone must pray for the help of the deceased, and the prayer must be answered.
Each of the saints above underwent the process of canonization, except St. Patrick (the only saint never to be officially canonized). The process, as exemplified by Mother Teresa, can be undertaken even today.