Whole Life Magazine

February / March 2019

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Page 18 of 31

T he origin story of the widely celebrated holiday Valentine's Day, previously known as "Saint Valentine's Day," is one of honor, love, and social activism. During the third century, Emperor Claudius Gothicus II within his kingdom of Rome prohibited any engagements or marriages to be performed. He was heavily invested in the many wars he was raging and didn't want the men to have loyalties other than to Rome itself. Attachments could weaken the resolve of his soldiers and potential recruits. Valentine (Latin-Valentinus), a simple priest of Rome, knew of this decree and chose to marry the young lovers in secret, knowing that if he was discovered the threat of torture and persecution by beheading could be his end. In candlelit rooms with voices in a whisper, the story goes that Valentine performed hundreds of marriage ceremonies for many years. He was finally discovered and imprisoned. The Emperor insisted that Valentine renounce his Christian faith as well as admit his actions were wrong in order to be set free. The humble priest would not submit so his fate was sealed. While in prison, one of his guardsmen requested that Valentine heal his blind daughter as he had healed others. The young Julia was brought to the priest and he did indeed heal her eyesight. They had a number of visits and fell in love. During this time word spread that Priest Valentine of Rome was held captive and soon would be executed. The young lovers he married heard of his fate and came to the grounds of the prison where they prayed for him and bestowed bouquets of flowers to Valentine in gratitude. It is said that the day before his execution he asked to see Julia one last time. The Emperor forbade it. Valentine requested permission to pen a letter to his beloved and have it delivered after his death. The letter ended with "Love, your Valentine." The execution was the 14th day of February circa. 270 A.D. St. Valentine of Rome became the patron saint of love, happy marriages, young people, and beekeepers and is often pictured with birds and roses. The presumed relics of St. Valentine can be found all over the world. Many believe that the relics continue the invisible presence of the saint's love and compassion. It is also told that Pope Gelasius I ended the pagan fertility feast of Lupercalia and declared February 14, 496 A.D., to be celebrated as the Feast Day of St. Valentine. The first connection of romance citing St. Valentine and the 14th day of February is with Geoffrey Chaucer in his Middle Ages poetry. In the third century, the name Valentine or Valentinus was given as an honorarium. As a result, there were a number of priests named Valentinus. During his reign, Claudius executed two other Valentines on February 14 in different years. One was a priest in Rome and the other a bishop of Interamna (Terni, Italy). Yet another priest named Valentine was executed in a Roman province in Africa. Third-century scholars suggest that it's possible the stories may be conflating a few priests into one or one into a few. Others believe the story of Valentine and Julia. Even though the story of Valentine, priest of Rome, may not be verifiable history, perhaps we are reminded of the ever-elusive aspect of love and faith itself. Perhaps this historical account reminds us of our belief in the good, doing what's ours to do, and the inspiration of noble acts and faith in us all. From The Night Piece: To Julia Let not the dark thee cumber; What though the moon does slumber? The stars of the night Will lend thee their light, Like tapers clear without number. Then Julia let me woo thee, Thus, thus to come unto me; And when I shall meet Thy silv'ry feet, My soul I'll pour into thee. – ROBERT HERRICK 1648

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