Today we equate Valentine’s Day with Cupid, romance, chocolate, flowers, and romantic dates. However, according to legend, the history of St. Valentine (a.k.a Valentinus) is actually one of persecution and torture, but also of healing and forgiveness. There are many different counts of the tale of Valentinus, and most are dark and violent.
- One tale claims that Valentinus was a priest during the third century under Roman Emperor Claudius II. Claudius outlawed marriage for young men because he thought single men made more viable soldiers. Valentinus believed that marriage was sacred and, rather than comply with the wedding ban, continued to marry young Christian people in secret. He was eventually caught, imprisoned, and tortured for performing marriages against the law of the Emperor. He was sentenced to death.
- Another legend claims that Emperor Claudius ordered all Romans to worship twelve gods and made it a crime punishable by death to associate with Christianity. Valentinus was dedicated to his faith, and would not let the threat of death keep him from practicing his religion. He was arrested and imprisoned. He was sentenced to death.
- A third story claims that Valentinus was a brave man who helped save Christians from the torture and abuse of Roman officials. He was eventually caught, imprisoned, and tortured. He was sentenced to death.
Common to these three tales is a man who was brave enough to stand up for his beliefs, regardless of the threat of death. Each of the legends describes what happened to Valentinus after being tortured in the same way:
Valentinus befriended his torturer’s daughter, a young blind woman named Julia. He showed great strength by forgiving the terrible things her father had done to him. It is said that Valentinus restored her sight by teaching her the power of prayer and believing in God. On the eve of his execution, Valentinus wrote Julia a note urging her to stay close to God and signed it, “From your Valentine.”
We use this sentence to this day when we write our Valentine’s cards. This February 14th, when you send your St. Valentine’s messages of affection, love, and devotion we ask that you also think about the courage of those around the world who stand up for basic human rights and the strength of those who rebuild their lives after overcoming tremendous obstacles such as persecution.