Catholic Martyrologies and Hagiographies list no less than 11 Saint Valentines, but it is one Saint Valentius of Narnia (l kid you not) that has come to symbolize ‘Romantic Love’, quite possibly due to the reason for his gruesome execution in Rome, way back in the year 269 -on the 14th February coincidentally.
Whilst delivering his weekly sermon to the good people of Narnia,
a town in Umbria, Valentius couldn’t help slipping the word Jesus into his homilies from time to time,(Yes, the very same J.C. who has since become a household word) a bad habit to get into, as it turns out. The mere mention of this word made the local judge, one Autuaro Asterius, prick up his ears. (if you will pardon the expression)
Valentius was put under house arrest – in the judge’s own house –as was the custom of the day. Yet again, the excitable Valentius couldn’t help blurting out that word. Now Artie explained patiently to young Vali(they were on a first name basis by now) that he was under strict instructions from ‘The-Powers-That-Be’ to have him beaten to death with a blunt instrument –publically, ( there was no television in those days) if he some much as whispered that word. But being the kindly old sock that he was, he gave young Vali one last chance to redeem himself. The judge had a beautiful daughter who was as blind as a bat. If Vali could restore her sight he would be spared the gruesome death that awaited him. Vali duly laid his hands on the girl’s eyes and spoke that word several times, (soto voce, of course) the girl opened her eyes and for the fist time in her life she saw the world in all its radiant beauty. A Miracle!
Young Vali had ticked the first box on the Application for Sainthood. Judge Arty not only revoked Vali’s imminent death warrant but became an instant devotee of the unspeakable messiah and so did his gracious daughter, of course.
Things were going swimmingly for young Valentius, so well in fact that he ventured to chance his luck in the big city, the biggest of them all, the seathing, bustling metropolis of Rome, no less, the Capital of the world. But as luck would have it, the-powers-that-be in the cauldron of power would not be quite so malleable as the folksy folk of Umbria.
As was to be expected, Vali could not refrain from mentioning the unmentionable word that brought instant ire to all good law abiding Pagans. From whispering his heresy in the darkest corner of the tavern his hubris told him to shout it from the soap box in the city square.
Emperor Claudius Gothicus himself, no less, soon pricked up his ears, and he could be a particularly prickly fellow at the best of times.
Valentius was placed once more under house arrest – in Claudius’s very own house, as was the Roman custom, and yet again, on a good day, as luck would have it, when the notoriously prickly Claudius was wasn’t feeling such a prick, he was offered one last chance to escape is grisly fate. Claudius had a comely wife; one Clitimnestra, who refused to bare him an air, though not through lack of trying. If Valentius could induce his barren wife to conceive a bouncing baby boy, all would be forgiven. This was no walk in the park, but but one more miracle would make his sainthood a ‘lay-down-messiere’. After exhaustive investigations, over many private sessions with the vivacious Clitimnestra, she got pregnant. The emperor was overjoyed, as any prospective father would be, and vowed to set Valentius free the very next day, but first he felt the urge to rewarded his fertile wife with his greatest gift; the fruit of his loins, a gift she embraced with open arms, with fervour and with gusto. But alas and alak, as luck would have it, at very height of her exaltation she raised her comely eyes to the heavens and cried out, in a guttural moaning wail:
Thus his fate was sealed. Young Valentius of the golden tongue, met his grisly end; beaten to death with a club, beheaded and paraded around the square on a pointy stick, as was the custom of the day. (no T.V. remember) But he ‘took-it-on-the-chin’, as we say in Rome’, knowing his martyrdom had ticked the last box. glorious martyrdom awaited- plus the added bonus of a hero’s welcome in Heaven.
And that is why, to this very day, on this very day, we celebrate his death as an undying symbol of romantic love.
Ben Laycock 2016