The Story of St. Valentine
Retold by Vintage Mama Cover illustration by Rebecca Evans 1
As the humble priest wandered wearily through the dingy, dreary streets of Rome, his heart cried out to God. “Oh, Heavenly Father, please guide me through this darkness in my soul!” The sound of his footsteps echoed in the chilly, rainy night in the ancient city where the Church ruled the lives of the citizens. “What am I to do, my Father? The Emperor has forbidden all of the young men of the Empire to marry for fear that they will no longer be courageous warriors. And yet, I see the despair on their faces and I feel the pain in their broken hearts when they come to me and ask me to marry them.” Valentine, the local priest in this downtrodden corner of the glorious city of Rome, was torn between his desire to bless his parishioners and the decree of Emperor Claudius. Although Valentine understood the requirement that the followers of Christ should be good Roman citizens, he also knew in his heart that it is better to obey God rather than men. What should he do? Valentine fell to his knees on the frigid dirt floor of his cell in the heart of the monastery, pleading with God to give him wisdom. All that long dark, cold night the humble priest sought God’s guidance, knowing that if he should choose to disobey the cruel commands of the Emperor, that he would be putting his very life into jeopardy. And yet, he also knew deep in his heart, that he could never disobey God. Valentine knew that marriage was honorable and pleasing to God, and that the people would turn to him for guidance in this matter. How to honor God and minister to his parishioners without putting his life in danger? As the humble priest bowed before his Heavenly Father, there in the darkness and cold of a bitter winter night in the city of Rome, Valentine’s heart grew in confidence, strength, and courage. His continued prayers to his loving and gracious God became bold in his determination to hold on, as Jacob had when he wrestled with God at Peniel, and he cried out, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And in that place, the priest Valentine was determined to know God’s mind concerning his ministry to his people or his obedience to Emperor Claudius. In that moment of expectation, God gave Valentine a glimpse of His grace and mercy, and Valentine knew what he must do.
Valentine, the tenderhearted priest in the ancient city of Rome, went forth from that place of prayer, determined to give God’s blessing to those young lovers who came to him to be married. In the brightness of the morning, Valentine sought out the young lovers he had turned away just the day before, and he told them, “You must wed in secret to protect yourselves from the certain punishment of the Emperor’s soldiers, but God has shown me that He has blessed your union.” And so God gave Valentine the courage to bless young lovers throughout the ancient city, in spite of the possible danger to himself. Valentine had discovered the gift of a life wholly devoted to God. Obedience in the face of opposition, and trust in the midst of the very darkness of evil. Not many weeks had passed when Valentine was apprehended one night while he was again on his knees in the presence of his Heavenly Father. “Get up, filthy priest!” the soldiers cursed, gripping Valentine’s arms as he prayed. “You are under arrest, by decree of Emperor Claudius, for your deception and dishonoring the law of Rome!” The soldiers dragged Valentine through the dilapidated streets of the city, past the hovels of his parishioners. Silently he stumbled along, trying to keep from falling into the black and filthy mud that filled the streets. Hiding in the shadows were many of his parishioners, including those young lovers that he had married in defiance of the heavy hand of the Roman laws. Who had betrayed him? How could God have allowed this to happen? After all, he was only living in obedience to the words of his Heavenly Father. Did he not do what he knew God was guiding him to do? Valentine was broken hearted, for he knew that there was no one else who would help his frightened parishioners. Again he silently cried out to God, in his brokenness and desperation. “Father, please protect them from the wrath of this evil Emperor!” Valentine pleaded again, calling on the mercy and grace of God. “Give me just one opportunity to reveal the power of Your love to the world!” Then his voice was muted by the clanging of the chains and the shudder of the prison door slamming shut. The darkness closed in around him as he fell to his knees on the icy stones of the cell. As the wintry morning sun climbed over the horizon of the following frozen morning, Valentine awoke to the clinking sound of keys at the heavy door of his prison cell. Stiff from shivering in the damp corner all night, Valentine moved slowly to rise in anticipation of a meager morning meal. 3
When the ancient wooden door creaked open, Valentine was quite astonished to see a young woman shuffle into the dim and shadowed cell carrying a sputtering candle in one hand and a bowl of thin soup in the other. “Hello,” she said, more cheerfully than Valentine could have imagined, under the circumstances. “Hello,” he responded quietly, more in surprise than fear at his imprisonment. She held out the chipped and cracked bowl of soup in his direction, never making eye contact with him. She stared blindly in his general direction, with a sweet and gentle smile on her lovely face. He reached out to take the bowl from her hand, grateful for the small warmth that it provided to his frozen fingers. “I will bring you a warm blanket today, if I am allowed,” she said, still staring beyond him to the dank stones of the walls. “My dear girl, that would be so kind, but please do not put yourself in danger,” he replied between greedy gulps of the warm but tasteless soup. “I know that you are here only because of your own kindness,” she said, her face glowing with compassion. “And I believe that God has given me this opportunity to care for you in your imprisonment.” Valentine looked at her in bewilderment and amazement! How did she know all of this? “May I ask your name then, as you have been sent from God as an angel of kindness?” he asked her. He stood silently waiting to hear her reply, and soon she whispered, “I am named Livia,” she replied sweetly, “for it means “crown” and my father believes me to be his crowning glory.” “And who is your father, may I ask?” Valentine inquired, his curiosity growing.
“My father is the jailer here in this prison, and he allows me to assist him at times of great need,” she said with a twinkle in her unseeing eyes. “I have been bringing broth and blankets to the prisoners here since I was a small girl, as I cannot work elsewhere, because I am blind, you see,” she touched her face gently as if to emphasize the darkness of her eyes. “I am honored to meet you, Livia,” said Valentine, “and I am so grateful for your generosity to the prisoners.” “I know that you have been helping the young people among your parishioners,” she said, “and I know that you have married many young lovers in defiance of the Emperor.” As she spoke, Livia turned back towards the door. As she did so, Valentine said anxiously, “Please tell me that you will to visit me again!” Livia turned, and her eyes seemed to lock onto his intense gaze. Although her eyes were unseeing, it was as if her heart could sense his desperate need for her kindness. “Of course I will return,” she said sweetly, and then silently disappeared through the dark and heavy door. Behind her, he heard the thud of the closing door and the clink of the keys as she walked up the stone steps of the prison. The hours passed slowly for Valentine in the damp and brooding darkness of the cell. In those moments of loneliness and silence, Valentine began to understand God’s gift to him in this place. Although he feared he would never again be able to minister to his parishioners and bring comfort to them as they struggled to survive under brutal laws of Emperor Claudius, he knew that through his newfound friendship with Livia, God would somehow use him to bring the message of His love to searching hearts. Valentine eagerly anticipated Livia’s return with the evening bowl of the watery but warm soup, and he so longed to speak with her again. And if she could really bring him a blanket to cover himself with in the frigid night air, truly he knew that God was watching over him even here in this lonely prison cell.
Livia returned later that evening, bringing Valentine not only a bowl of soup, but a crust of bread, and the promised blanket. Although it was worn and tattered, he received her gift as if she had offered him a bag of gold coins. Valentine and Livia chatted frequently after that, as she would quietly bring him small gifts of generosity, including the gift of a pen and paper upon which he could write words of encouragement to his parishioners. As their friendship grew, so did his love for Livia, and yet he knew that he could never commit his life to her, even if he were ever released from his prison cell. Valentine did not speak of his love for Livia, and yet he could feel in his heart that she cared for him, too. Day after day, she would visit him in his cell and bring him the small treasures that she could scrounge together and hide deep within the folds of her cloak. Over the weeks and months of his imprisonment, and his growing love for Livia, God was working in the hearts of these two gentle people. Then one evening, just as the sun was dipping behind the edge of the barred window in the stone wall of his cell, Valentine heard Livia come quickly down the broken stone steps and rush to his door. The keys jingled merrily as she unlocked the door and flew into the cell. “Valentine, Valentine!” she exclaimed excitedly, “this morning I suddenly discovered that I can see sunlight dimly through the fog of my eyes!” He touched her eyes lightly, and prayed that God would continue to bring sight to her beautiful eyes. At that moment, Livia turned her face up to look at Valentine. As she touched his face gently, she said, “Finally, I see your dear face.” They rejoiced together that God had healed her blindness, and they talked of the day when he might be set free from prison. One day soon after this miracle, as Valentine was awaiting his daily visit from Livia, he heard a different sound outside the door of his cell. Heavy boots stomped down the stone steps, and loud, rough voices shouted through the passageway. “Wake up, priest! Get up!” one of the guards snarled as he forced the keys into the lock of the cell door. Valentine stood and waited quietly for an explanation, but the guard offered no reason for this unexpected visit. 6
“Am I being released?” Valentine asked with great anticipation. “Of course not, you fool!” the other guard spat out the words. “This is your day to die!” he growled. Valentine suddenly realized that he would never speak with his sweet Livia again. Outside the door to Valentine’s cell, the guards were arguing about who would lead him to the courtyard. With the harshness of the guard’s words ringing in his ears, Valentine quickly pulled the pen and scrap of paper from their hiding place in a crude hole in the stone wall. As the guards argued, and their voices grew louder and belligerent outside the door, he quickly scribbled a note: “To my sweet Livia, I must tell you that I have been taken away, but you will remain in my heart forever. I love you! From,Your Valentine.” Just as Valentine hurriedly crumpled the note and returned it to the hiding place between the broken stones, the guards swung the wooden door open, slamming it into the wall. With one guard on his left and one on his right, they dragged Valentine up the slippery, muddy steps of the prison to the courtyard of execution. At the top of the stairs, Valentine saw Livia on her way to bring him her daily gift of soup and bread. He made no effort to cry out, but through eyes filled with love, he said everything that was in his heart. As his eyes locked onto her now-seeing eyes, she knew in her heart that Valentine had truly been God’s gift to her. He knew that she would find the note that he had slipped into the hole in the stone wall, and that she would understand that their love was eternal. The day of Valentine’s execution would remain forever in the heart of sweet Livia. It was February 14, in the year of our Lord, 270 A.D.
Cover illustration by Rebecca Evans of Rebecca Evans Illustration http://www.etsy.com/shop/RebeccaEvans 7
Credits and Copyrights “The Story of St. Valentine” retold by Vintage Mama is copyright 2012 by Nina Newton Gossamer Wings Publications email@example.com http://mamaslittletreasures.com/publish-your-ebook-with-gossamer-wingspublications All pictures and images are have been purchased, used by permission or are in the public domain. If any pictures or images have been used inadvertently, and they do not belong in this publication, please email us and we will immediately remove them. Cover image by Rebecca Evans of Rebecca Evans Illustrations http://www.etsy.com/shop/RebeccaEvans Nina Newton is a writer, editor, teacher, designer and creator of children’s boutique clothing and crafts, and “wearable art” created from refashioned garments. She has taught philosophy, ethics, writing, and early American history at community college, a teacher of adult education, and is currently the senior editor of Ruby for Women, a monthly online Christian women’s magazine. Nina earned two undergraduate degrees in Ancient Languages, Biblical Studies, and Classical Civilization and Philosophy, as well as a Master’s Degree in Historical Theology from the Medieval Institute at Western Michigan University. Her particular area of interest is the history of women in the Christian church, and she has written several articles on this topic. She has also been featured in a chapter in the book, “Inspired Women Succeed,” by Diane Cunningham and Jo Ann Fore for the National Association of Christian Women Entrepreneurs. In addition to her academic experience, Nina has written numerous eBook patterns for a wide variety of craft projects and children’s clothing under the name of mamas*little*treasures, all of which are sold on numerous websites, including You Can Make This at www.youcanmakethis.com She has several online boutique shops where she sells vintage, “Almost Vintage,” and refashioned garments, shoes, and accessories. Her most recent undertaking is Gossamer Wings Publications which provides eBook services including editing, formatting, creative direction, and conversion to digital eBook magazine format for writers of family-friendly stories, poetry, devotionals, inspirational articles, cook books, children’s books, or biographies. For more information, please contact Nina at firstname.lastname@example.org You can also find her on any of her websites or online shops. www.mamaslittletreasures.com www.mamalittletreasures.etsy.com www.tatterstotreasures.etsy.com www.rubyforwomen.ning.com 8