Valentine’s Day has a long and interesting history that can be traced back to the third century. It is not a definitive story, which means we can make it our own. There were several Valentines in the third century and they were each martyred by the church on February 14th. I am captivated by the story of one.
He lived at a time when many Romans were converting to Christianity. Emperor Claudius II was a pagan and believed that Roman soldiers should be completely devoted to Rome, so he passed a law preventing them from marrying. Valentine began to marry the soldiers and eventually he was discovered and Claudius jailed him. Whilst imprisoned Valentine cared for the jailer’s blind daughter and legend has it that he restored her sight.
A fictitious letter from the jailer’s daughter to Valentine
by Nicole Cullinan
I think of you day and night; sleep is the only recompense. An antidote to stave off my rampant thoughts. I wonder what it would be like to part my lips for you. I want to please you. Do you ever think of me?
When you look at me, I feel frightened, too afraid to meet your gaze. You peer through a kaleidoscope and all of my little pieces are trapped in pretty patterns. And you slowly turn me around and around, and I worry, what if there is a pattern you do not like?
And when you are near me, I feel all the little pieces shifting, they collide in the centre, but the centre will not hold. I am yielding to all the pretty patterns. I want to part my lips for you. Will you be my Valentine?
Valentine’s final act before being executed was to write to the jailer’s daughter; a love note signed ‘from your Valentine’. He was executed on February 14, 270. The church honoured this martyrdom in 496 with the celebration of Saint Valentine’s Day.
What does this story mean for us today? It speaks to life being nothing without love. There is the history, the parable of people marrying secretly, that they were brave and believed in love being triumphant. And then there is our modern-day interpretation; acts of secret admiration. And these acts are done with so much hope, for this unrequited love is the antithesis of indifference. It reminds us that we each have so much to gain and lose.
If you are so lucky as to be with your love on Valentine’s Day, then I bid you well wishes, but should you find yourself all alone in this beautiful world, please do not be sad if you have loved. For even unrequited love is better than the loneliness of feeling nothing at all.
Post script note – Priests were allowed to marry at this point in history
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