Story of Saint Valentine

By Timothy Kretzmann
The thing that Valentine remembered even from his earliest memories was the house. It was perfect. Set in a series of gardens and vineyards, each more beautiful than the last, strung together along a stream that meandered through the place, at one point providing a large pool where luminous fish swam lazily in the shadows, in another a happily babbling brook, in another a waterfall sending mist into the air to be turned into rainbows from the sunlight filtering through the trees, before ending in the Tiber River.

is house was a white !ewel in the midst of this garden. It had long colonnades, beautiful courtyards and patio around every corner. To Valentine, who sadly was orphaned as a small child, this vast house, manned as it was by a dozen or so slaves, was more than a home or a family" it was his world. #ndlessly he would contemplate things like which herbs and trees should be planted where$ Should a fountain be built here or over there$ %ho should we invite to the dinner ne&t weekend$ 'nd so on.

Valentine was a Roman. e lived in Rome about ()* years after +esus at a time when ,hristianity was spreading throughout the Roman #mpire. -ike most Romans, he believed that when he was asleep and dreamed about something, it was his duty to bring it into his waking world. 'nd what Valentine dreamed about more than anything else was, of course, his house. This was where he got his many ideas of what to do around the place. .nce, he dreamed of flocks of white doves flying above the courtyards and through the colonnades, and so he bought them and trained them and loved to watch them flying about and filling the garden with song. e dreamed of sitting under and old olive tree thinking vast and courageous thoughts, and so he brought in some olive trees and planted them in his garden and though they seldom bore fruit, they grew strong and Valentine was pleased. Then one night he had another dream. e was in a dark room in front of a large wooden table that was full of burning candles of all shapes and sizes. The walls of the room were lined with benches, which were filled with radiant men, women and children softly smiling, their eyes warm and filled with love, gazing at him. e closed his eyes and he felt himself soaring upward and when he opened his eyes he was floating among the stars. There were stars and planets and whole gala&ies in front of him, below him, and all around.

'nd then he woke up. /'h,0 he thought to himself, /I1ve got to make a room !ust like that one.0 'nd so he !umped out of bed and raced down the hall calling to his two most trusted slaves, /'urelia, 2amien3 ,ome 4uickly. %e have much to do30

e found the perfect good sized room with high ceilings and doors that opened onto a balcony that overlooked the vast gardens. e spent the day finding the right table and benches and having them brought up to the room, and then arranging the candles on the table. 't last, as the twilight was fading into darkness, the candles were lit. Valentine stepped back from the table, his eyes wide. /5erfect30 he said softly to himself, /+ust perfect30 'urelia, an elderly woman who had been a slave of his parents long before he was born, walked up to him with a beautiful smile on her face and hugged him. She hugged him3 ' slave hugging her master3 e stepped back in wonder. /,ome,0 she said, and taking his arm led him through the house down into the basement under the baths, past the furnace room, through a doorway into a room in which there was a table covered with candles, and benches lined the walls. /%e have all been ,hristians for many years now,0 she said, speaking of the rest of the slaves, /and this is our temple. 6any years ago I brought you down here and you were baptized secretly.0 Valentine slowly began to understand that they had mistaken his actions as some sort of public statement that he was a ,hristian. It would be rude and simply not right to disillusion them at this point, and so he went along with it. In being polite, Valentine embarked on a course that was filled with many wonders. .ne thing was the music" lone voices with no instruments, voices filled with longing and a devotion unknown to him before now, floating through the house as if the house had been waiting for it. There was the brotherhood" the slaves started telling him what they really thought, they started telling him !okes, they did things he had always thought they were incapable of doing, they gave him things and he gave them things back. It was wonderful. 7ut what he loved most were the ceremonies. %hen the candles were lit in the upper room for their service, it seemed the whole house was aglow inside and out. %hen babies were brought to the house to be baptized, he beamed with delight at their little cries and their tiny hands and feet. 7ut his favorite of all were the weddings. It was as if the house, the gardens and he himself were made for weddings. 't first there was one every couple of months or so, and Valentine would help in whatever way he could. Then he was asked to marry one of the couples. So he became a minister and more and more couples came to him to be married. There was something about it all that made him feel not so much that he had changed, as he was becoming himself. The vows that the couples made to love each other no matter what fate had in store for them, caused him to reflect in himself on the relationship he had developed inside with 8od, and he vowed within himself to love the 8od that had enriched his life more than he had dreamed possible. e took great delight in helping all the couples with all the details of their weddings9 finding e&actly the right spot in the garden or in the house for the ceremony, !ust the right songs to be sung, or the

tiny white flowers for the bou4uets. Soon, it seemed that every ,hristian couple within reach of Rome was getting married by Valentine at his house. Then one day the #mperor, whose name was ,laudius, banned marriage. 'nyone caught performing a wedding ceremony would be killed. is concern was that if the young men of Rome got married they would not want to go off and fight with the Roman army. #ven worse, he banned it on :ebruary first. In ancient Rome a :ebruary bride was akin to a +une bride today" it was Valentine1s1 busiest month. %hen Valentine heard the proclamation he ignored it and set about performing the weddings he had scheduled. :or a few days all was well, but word got back to #mperor ,laudius that Valentine was defying his order. 'nd on the ;<th of :ebruary, while Valentine was in the middle of a ceremony in which he was marrying four couples, the 5raetorian, the #mperor1s personal guards, arrived to arrest him. Valentine protested his arrest saying, /These are ,hristian weddings, not real Roman weddings. 5eople leave here and go to the temple of +uno and have a legal wedding done. Surely it is only the real weddings that are banned.0 The 5raetorian, who was a friend of Valentine, shook his head slowly, /Valentine, you are a dead man. +ust this morning the #mperor banned ,hristian weddings from Rome.0 'nd so Valentine was arrested. 7ecause it was on the eve of the seven=day feast of -upercalia, honoring the Roman god of fertility, the #mperor decided it was inappropriate to e&ecute the only minister left in Rome performing weddings. So Valentine was placed in the top cell of a tower in a field across from his estate until the festival was over. 's he stepped into his cell he saw that the only window in it perfectly framed a view of his house from a perspective he had never seen before and the beauty of it gave him much happiness. 'nd there was also the !ailer1s daughter, +ulia, who was blind, and yet cooked wonderful meals for Valentine and kept him company through the barred door. In the stormy afternoon of his first day of imprisonment, he heard someone calling from outside the window. -ooking down he saw the four couples whose wedding had been interrupted by his arrest. They wanted him to finish the wedding. /I1m sorry,0 he called out through the window, /7ut we can1t have a wedding with this wind.0 Suddenly the wind stopped. /'nd I1m afraid it1s raining much too hard.0 'nd the rain stopped and the clouds parted and rainbow stretched across the sky. /'nd we can1t have you getting married in those muddy clothes.0 Their togas became white as snow.

/'nd we really need to have the little white flowers and the doves and the music.0 'nd suddenly a bou4uet of the little white flowers appeared in the hands of each of the brides and all of Valentines1 doves were circling the tower filling the air with music. /%ell30 he said, /It1s looking a lot like a wedding all of a sudden.0 'nd he performed the ceremony. 's the couples were walking away, one of the brides turned and said, /:ather Valentine, what about the certificates$0 +ulia went downstairs and found a sheaf of old e&ecution orders and passed them under the door. Valentine saw that the backs of them were blank, but the idea of using used paper for such a treasured document bothered him. Then he had an idea. e cut the paper into different shapes9 trees, doves and hearts and he wrote the name of the couple, and also wrote, You are married in the eyes of God and Christ. Many blessings, from your Valentine. 's the week went by, every day more and more couples came and gathered outside of the tower and were married by Valentine, and he had many long conversations with +ulia, and ate many delicious meals that she had made for him. :inally on the seventh day he had !ust finished a mass wedding of over ;** couples when the 5raetorian came for him. 's he walked out of his cell, +ulia was there, tears running down her cheeks. /I think 8od wants you to see,0 Valentine said. /I do not care to see the face of a world that can destroy one such as you, Valentine.0 /They can only kill this body, they will not even touch my soul. 5lease let me>0 and he gently placed his hands on her eyes until the 5raetorian yanked him away and led him down the stairs. +ulia stood there at the tops of the stairs with her eyes closed, listening as the footsteps echoed down the stairs. The sound of the door to the tower slamming shut had nearly faded away when she finally opened her eyes. She could see3 The first thing she saw when she opened her eyes, perfectly framed by the only window in the cell, was the house. The e&4uisite beauty of it made her smile.

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