On February 14th we celebrate Valentine’s Day in honor of love in romance and friendship. But who was Valentine? According to history there are a couple of candidates for the real Valentine, but one story particularly expresses the spirit that makes Valentine’s Day such an enduring expression of love.
The story of Valentine’s Day begins in the third century with an oppressive Roman emperor and a humble Christian. The emperor was Claudius II. The Christian was Valentinus. Claudius had ordered all Romans to worship twelve gods, and he had made it a crime punishable by death to associate with Christians. But Valentinus was dedicated to the ideals of Christ, and not even the threat of death could keep him from practicing his beliefs. He was arrested and imprisoned.
During the last weeks of Valentinus’s life a remarkable thing happened. Seeing that he was a man of learning, the jailer asked whether his daughter, Julia, might be brought to Valentinus for lessons. She had been blind since birth. Julia was a pretty, young girl with a quick mind. Valentinus read stories of Rome’s history to her. He taught her arithmetic, and told her about God. She saw the world through his eyes, trusted his wisdom, and found comfort in his quiet strength.
“Valentinus, does God really hear our prayers?” Julia said one day.
“Yes, my child, He hears each one,” he replied.
“Do you know what I pray for every morning and every night? I pray that I might see. I want so much to see everything you’ve told me about!”
“God does what’s best for us if we only believe in Him,” Valentinus said.
“Oh, Valentinus, I do believe,” Julia said intensely. “I do.” She knelt down and grasped his hand.
They sat quietly together, each praying. Suddenly there was a brilliant light in the prison cell. Radiant, Julia screamed, “Valentinus, I can see! I can see!”
“Praise be to God!” Valentinus exclaimed, and he knelt down in prayer.
On the eve of his death Valentinus wrote a last note to Julia, urging her to stay close to God, and he signed it “From your Valentine.” His sentence was carried out the next day, February 14, 270 A.D., near a gate that was later named Prota Valentini in his memory. He was buried at what is now the Church of Praxedes in Rome. It is said that Julia herself planted a pink-blossomed almond tree near his grave.
Today, the almond tree remains the symbol of abiding love and friendship. On each February 14, St. Valentine’s Day, messages of affection, love and devotion are exchanged around the world.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Barbara Y. Martin