The Legend of Saint Valentine

violets flowers
Valentine’s Day is one day we set aside to celebrate love. We send lacy, frilly cards with mushy messages of love, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and flowers by the dozen. What a wonderful way to express our love for one another. Old St. Valentine must have been quite the Casanova, right?

In reality…quite the opposite…Valentine was a pagan priest who lived during the grotesque Roman persecution against Christians. Though no Christian, he was repulsed by the Roman tortures, so he began secretly protecting the believers.

Helping Christians was a serious crime, so Valentine was put in jail. His time there would probably have been fairly short if he had not converted to Christianity while behind bars. Because of this, Valentine was sentenced to death, even though his prayers reportedly resulted in an amazing healing—the jailer’s blind daughter regained her sight.

During his last days, Valentine often thought of his family and friends who were not allowed to visit. He sought some way to communicate his love. According to tradition, he would squeeze his arm through his window bars and reach some violets which grew outside. After picking a bunch of the heart-shaped leaves, he would pierce one each day with a message like “Remember your Valentine.” Then he’d send the message home with some homing pigeons supplied by his family. Toward the end of his life the message changed to a simple “I love you.”

Finally, after he again refused to renounce the Christian faith, Valentine was killed on February 14, 269 A.D.

Sentimental love wasn’t what St. Valentine had in mind at all. The love he experienced is the kind of love that loves someone enough to forgive them for wronging you. It puts the needs of others above your own. It loves the unlovely.

The love Jesus Christ demanded goes further than that. To a rich young man, Jesus said love required selling all he had to give it to the poor. To his friend Peter, Jesus said love meant spending the rest of his life sharing the Good New with hostile listeners. “The greatest love is shown,” Jesus said, “when a person lays down his life for his friends.” Jesus then proved it by taking the blame for our imperfections.

St. Valentine sent out his message of “I love you.” Jesus’ love echoed loudly outside his cell. But…it cost.

This story is adapted from an article published in “Campus Life” magazine, February, 1981, written by Marshall Norfolk.

5 comments to The Legend of Saint Valentine

  • Richie

    Wow, I never knew the story behind the man, Valentine. Now the day will have a much deeper meaning to me. The call to love can be so very costly, but oh, how valuable real love is. I am memorizing 1 John now and one verse I learned recently is “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us”. All real and valuable love stems from that source.

    • So true Richie. Real love is rare, and also costly. It’s our calling to let God love the world through us – much easier said than done, but people want to SEE the love of God, not just hear about it.

  • Tony

    Janet, this certainly gives new perspective to my wife and me for our first (unofficial) date, 14 Feb 1997. Thank you for doing the research to teach us the “truth” behind such an occasion. And thank you to Richie for reminding me of the 1 John passage.

  • Jane MBS

    thanks for that, Janet. I’m memorizing 1Peter right now where it says, …”keep fervent in your love for one another”, so like the verse in 1 John. This is love in the extreme – impossible for us but possible with God.

    • Hi Jane, It’s so convicting that others will know we are Christians by our love. Likewise if we don’t love each other, how will they see the love of God?