Are the Romans responsible for the romance in St. Valentine’s Day? Quite possibly so ~ but in a way that does not reflect our usual romantic thoughts and traditions of kisses, candy and flower. While the Romans can be credited with contributing to our ideas of romance with the antics of the cherubic Cupid, the actual legend of St. Valentine involves a priest, a prison cell and a prayer.
The origin of St. Valentine’s Day is part of Roman history and legend. It begins in the third century under the reign of Claudius II, aka Claudius the Cruel because of his oppressive rule. He seems to have been a joyless personality who banned engagements and marriages in order to strengthen and enlarge his army. He ordered all Romans to worship his chosen gods and decreed death to anyone who associated with the Christians.
Valentinus, a priest, however, quietly defied the emperor. He continued to practice his Christian beliefs and to marry couples in secret. Eventually, his activities were discovered, and he was sentenced to death.
During his imprisonment, the jailer noticed that Valentinus was an educated man. He wanted his daughter who had been blind from birth to benefit from Valentinus’ knowledge and experience of the world. During the last few weeks of his life, the young girl, Julia, visited Valentinus daily to learn such practical matters as arithmetic and language along with his deep faith in God. They often went for nature walks where they plucked the colorful crocus flowers to give to Julia's father.
One day, Julia told Valentinus she prayed daily that she might regain her sight so she could see the world he had described to her. Valentinus assured her that God heard and honored all prayers. He told her that whatever happened would be God's will for her life and would be for the best.
On the eve of his death, Valentinus composed a special message to Julia thanking her for her friendship and loyalty. He encouraged her to maintain her faith in God. He signed his note, “From your Valentine.”
He gave the note to the jailer to deliver to Julia. When she opened it, a bright, yellow crocus dropped into her hand, a reminder of their time together. Her eyes turned down to the delicate flower, and she saw its brilliant color for the first time in her life. Her blindness had been cured!
Valentinus' death sentence was carried out the next day, February 14, 270 AD. As a memorial to her friend and mentor, Julia planted a pink-blossomed almond tree near his grave. In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius declared the day of Valentinus' death St. Valentine's Day. It has been celebrated ever since with exchanges of flowers, gifts and messages of love.
Happy Valentine's Day!