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Some Valentine's Day celebrations come from early European beliefs that the second week of
February was when birds began to mate.  The idea suggests that lovers should probably
exchange notes and gifts on February 14th in conjunction with what nature practiced.  In ancient
Rome, the 14th of February was a pagan holiday in honor of Juno, the goddess of women and
marriage and the queen of the Roman Gods and goddesses.

However, later in the third century, it became a Christian holiday.  Around 270 A.D., the Roman
Empire was in a downward spiral that it never quite recovered from.  The reigning emperor,
Claudius II had ordered all Romans to worship twelve gods, and he made it a crime punishable
by death to even associate with Christians.

There were ever increasing threats from outside invaders, not to mention the lack of qualified
men to serve in the government and the military. So, Claudius decided that single men were
better suited than married men to serve in these capacities so he decided to ban marriage.

A local Christian bishop, Valentinus, dedicated to the ideals of Christ, secretly continued to
witness and offer the sacrament of marriage to couples who desired to do so. When Claudius
learned of this he had Valentinus arrested and jailed.

While in prison Valentinus continued to minister to other prisoners and to the guards. One of the
guards was a good man who had adopted a girl, who had been blind since birth. The guard,
seeing that Valentinus was a man of learning, asked for his blind daughter Julia, to be brought to
Valentinus for lessons.  

Valentinus read stories of Rome's history to Julia.  He described the world of nature to her.  He
taught her arithmetic, and told her about God.  She saw the world through his eyes, trusted in his
wisdom, and found comfort in his quiet strength.

During one lesson Julia asked Valentinus if he thought God really hears our prayers.  
"Yes, my
child, He hears each one,"
he replied.  

"Do you know what I pray for every morning and night? I pray that I might see.  I want so much
to see everything you've told me about."

"God does what is best for us if we will only believe in Him,"
Valentinus said.

"Oh, Valentinus, I do believe," Julia said intensely.  She knelt and grasped his hand and they
prayed together.  Suddenly there was a brilliant light in the prison cell.  Radiant, Julia cried,
"Valentinus, I can see! I can see!"

"Praise be to God!"
Valentinus exclaimed.

The guard and his whole family, 46 people, believed in Jesus and were baptized. When
Claudius heard about this, he was furious that Valentinus was still making converts even in
prison, so he ordered Valentinus clubbed and beheaded.

On the eve of his death, Valentinus wrote a last note to Julia, urging her to stay close to God, and
he signed it  "From Your Valentine."  His sentence was carried out the next day, February 14,
270 A.D., near a gate that was later named Porta Valentini in his memory.  He was buried at
what is now the Church of Praxedes in Rome.  

It is said that Julia herself planted a pink-blossomed almond tree near his grave.  Today, the
almond tree remains a symbol of abiding love and friendship.