The Legend of St. Valentine
The year is 270 A.D.
The setting is Rome. The context is the oppressive reign of Claudius II. The man is Valentinus, a Christian leader of learning and courage.
Against the Emperor's orders, Valentinus marries a couple in Christian ceremony. He is arrested and taken to prison, where he continues in prayer and faith. His songs and prayers echo against the prison walls...the light of Christ continues to shine.
And there, despite the misery of a Roman prison and the possibility of a death sentence, Valentinus befriends the jailer's daughter, Julia. She is blind and unable to school, a female bit of flotsam and jetsam in a culture that glorified physical perfection. Valentinus makes her acquaintance and values her mind and soul -- he begins to share the freedom of learning with her, and the beauty of her soul responds: a gentle flower opens inside her…where once the prison of culture and disability bound her, a light begins to dawn.
But the sentence of Valentinus would not wait.
On February 14, 270 A.D., he is taken out to face the lions.
But he does not leave her without a gift!
On the eve of his death, Valentinus penned a note to Julia, urging her to stay close to God. The note is delivered to her in the hour of his death, and as she opens it, the new light in her heart is joined to new light for her eyes. She could see. Christ honored the sacrifice of his life by healing the eyesight of this girl for whom he cared...
And so the last day of Valentinus brought his greatest miracle.
And his heart-shaped note? It was signed, "From your Valentine."
So the legend goes, as told in the DVD The First Valentine.
It is true? We only know bits and pieces -- the story has come down in fragments, passed on through the years of the church. The story revolves around Valentinus and Julia, and her eyesight being cured – if on the day of his death, we don’t know. But we do know that he was buried at the Church of Praxedes in Rome, and that a gate was later named after him, Porta Valentini.
One version of the story says that the healing occurred during one of their lessons:
“Valentinus, does God really hear our prayers?” Julia said one day. “Yes, He hears each one,” Valentinus 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 is best for us if we will only believe in Him,” Valentinus said. “Oh, Valentinus, I do believe,” Julia said intensely. “I do.” She knelt and grasped his hand.
They sat quietly together, each praying. Suddenly a brilliant light lit the prison cell. Radiant, Julia screamed, “Valentinus, I can see! I can see!”
“Praise be to God!” Valentinus exclaimed, and he knelt in prayer.
Whichever version is accurate, the legend itself is a rooted in a man and the love of Christ that burned in his heart…and a girl that received that love in the form of healing, soul and body.
The legend has it that Julia herself planted a pink-blossomed almond tree near his grave. Today, the almond tree retains that symbolism of enduring love and friendship.
The story is significant, for it resounds with the essence of Christian love -- the truth that true love is self-giving, not self-serving. True love is shown, not in what we receive in relationship, but what we give. True love is known, not in received honor, but in sacrifice that honors.
Therein is the revelation of our soul: how, and what, we give for the other.
Therein is the lesson of St. Valentine!
May it echo in your heart this day, this year!
And may you learn the freedom of self-giving love!
Happy Valentine's Day!