We’ve all heard that phrase or read it at the closing of a card or letter that marks the holiday known as Valentine’s Day. More over, when one hears the word Valentine, hearts and romance, maybe even a bit of poetry come to mind. But in all actuality, Valentine is a real person and he’s a martyred Catholic saint.
Saint Valentine lived during the third century; born somewhere near 226 AD in Terni, Italia of the Roman Empire and died in or around 269 AD in Rome. Although not a lot of specific details are known about his life – and some that are known are more myth and legend mingled within – we do know that he was a Catholic priest and before that, a physician. It’s also known that he was martyred by beheading under Emperor Claudius II in (or around) 269 AD for refusing to stop preaching about Christianity.
He first became known when he was thrown into jail for illegally marrying couples who were in love. Weddings had been outlawed at that time in ancient Rome by Emperor Claudius II. Claudius II was all about his army. To him, it seemed if men married they’d be less likely to join the ranks of his army. Guess that sort of makes sense in a kind of ‘It’s all about me the big emperor kind of way.’
But Valentine saw his imprisonment as just another opportunity to share the love the Jesus gave him with others, including a guard (jailer) named Asterious. Through their many conversations, Asterious became so impressed with Valentine’s wisdom and knowledge that he asked him to instruct his daughter, Julia, with her lessons. Julia needed someone to read her lessons to her for she was blind. The two became friends, and Julia visited Valentine many times in jail. But she wasn’t the only one to grow fondness towards Valentine.
Emperor Claudius II also visited Valentine in jail and offered him a pardon if he’d only renounce his faith in Christ and agree to worship the pagan gods. Valentine couldn’t turn away from his faith nor from the love of God, so he chose to share it yet again by encouraging the emperor to embrace Christianity. Needless to say, that didn’t fair well for the longevity of Valentine’s earthly existence. Claudius was so infuriated that he ordered Valentine’s execution. But before his execution on February 14th, he penned a letter of thanksgiving to Julia for her friendship and urged her to keep her faith close to her heart.
He signed the letter ‘from your Valentine.’
And if you ever visit the Basilica of Saint Maria in Cosmedin, Rome, you’ll find the skull of St. Valentine adorned with beautiful flowers. It is believed his skull along with other pieces of bone attributed to him were found in the catacomb near Rome in the early 1800’s. As with other saint relics, bits of his bones have been given to reliquaries around the world and are on display in places such as Ireland, France, and Scotland.