While roses rule the day and the economy on Valentine’s Day, the small, delicate crocus is actually the flower of Valentine’s Day. Its bright splash of purple or yellow attracts our attention as it peeks through the snow or drab winter landscape. It promises that spring is on its way to once again brighten the landscape.
Tiny as it is, the crocus is highly prized and priced for its gift to the culinary world – saffron. The pollen from the stigmata of the crocus is gently gathered by hand. Such intense labor makes it the most expensive spice in the world. Native to southern Europe, Asia and the Middle East, its beauty and taste have made it a popular plant worldwide.
But it wasn’t its rich taste that gave it a prime role in the history of Valentine’s Day. Legends tell of Valentunus, a physician who defied the orders of Claudius the Cruel to give up his Christian beliefs and worship Roman gods instead. Valentinus was imprisoned for his refusal.
While in prison, he became friends with a jailer who had a blind daughter. The jailer recognized that Valentinus was an educated man. He began to bring his daughter, Julia, to the jail where she could learn from Valentinus’ education. Valentinus taught her arithmetic, history, literature and about God and His great love for all beings. He also taught her to pray. They often went on long walks in the nearby woods and fields where they gathered the colorful flowers of the crocus for the jailer.
As the date of his execution drew near, Valentinus wrote a special letter to Julia to thank her for her friendship and loyalty and to encourage her faith in God. He gave the letter to the jailer to deliver to his daughter.
When Julia opened the letter, a yellow crocus pressed between the pages, fell into her hand. She touched the delicate flower, a reminder of her special friendship with Valentinus. At that moment, she saw the flower’s bright yellow color, the first sight her eyes had ever seen. The miracle message was signed “From Your Valentine,” a signature we traditionally use to express our sentiments of love to special people in our lives.
Valentinus was executed on February 14, 270 AD. In his honor, Julia planted a pink-blossomed almond tree near his grave. Pope Gelasius declared the day of Valentinus’ death St. Valentine’s Day in 496 AD.