Priest gives flowers, helps couples in ancient Rome

Petra Lessoing
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***Wednesday is the day to show and receive love and affection. In many countries all over the world, Feb. 14 is Valentine’s Day, the day for lovers and a day of friendship. Customarily, husbands and wives, girlfriends and boyfriends have romantic dinners, give gifts, candy, cards and flowers.

The custom of giving flowers goes back to ancient Rome, where a friendly priest called Valentine gave advice to young people, in particular regarding marriage. He did this despite Emperor Claudius’ prohibition. Claudius did not want his legionaries to get – according to Christian customs – tied to wives and houses. But Valentine was looking for lovers, found them and married them. He passed out flowers to young couples who were walking by the garden of his monastery and asked the men to stay at home rather than going out to battle.

One day Emperor Claudius wanted to meet Valentine to find out about his wisdom. The emperor requested Valentine to believe in Roman gods again. Then they would be friends. But the priest told him that he never would ask him to do so if he knew about the glory of God and his son Christ.

During his visit with Claudius, a council member asked Valentine what he thought of the Roman gods. Valentine answered that they were demons. The council immediately requested the blasphemer’s death. During a delay Valentine asked for, he impressed the emperor with the truth of Christian belief. Claudius was deeply touched, but when Rome’s governor said Valentine was a magician, Claudius feared a revolt by his people and passed the priest on to Asterius, a judge, to decide on his fate. While standing in front of the judge, Valentine performed a miracle. He made the judge’s blind daughter see again by praying and the laying on of hands. Asterius and his family got baptized after that. But since their new Christian belief was counter to Roman religion, they were tortured and killed. Rome’s governor also decided to torture Valentine and behead him Feb. 14, 269. 

Before he was killed, many young people visited him in jail. Also, one jail guard’s daughter came to see him several times. She helped him to keep his spirits up and told him that he did the right thing by ignoring the emperor and going ahead with the secret messages. On the day he was to die, he left a note thanking the girl for her friendship and loyalty. He signed it with “Love from your Valentine.” That might have started the custom of exchanging love messages Feb. 14.

One hundred years after Valentine’s death, he was canonized. In 1550, in memory of Valentine, a memorial chapel was built in St. Valentin in South Tyrol, Austria. Visitors can admire a wooden statue of the saint.
Since Valentine’s martyr death, Feb. 14 is observed as a day of love. In former times, the night before Feb. 14, women tied laurel leaves to the four tips of their pillows. This was supposed to be a guarantee for dreaming of their true love. People also believed that a woman would marry the man she first gets to see in front of her house on Valentine’s Day. This was enough reason for a young man to be out early in the morning, and to reassure the feeling of his beloved one with a bouquet of flowers.

In the 18th century, people in love started to send romantic greeting cards. In Germany, recognition of Valentine’s Day started in the 1950’s when American Soldiers brought the British tradition to Germany. The Greeting Card Association estimates that world-wide one billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making it the second largest card-sending day behind Christmas.