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The First Valentine

Based on a true story. Felix, Antonia, and Marcus are fictional characters based on Christians from this time frame. However, Saint Valentine, his jailer, and the jailer’s daughter were real. The  characters’ emotions and personalities are fictional as well. Facts found in this piece are derived from https://www.history.com/news/real-st-valentine-medieval.

Art by Myah Teague.

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It began sometime in the year 270 A. D., mid-February. Like any other young Roman couple, Felix and the love of his life, Antonia, were seeking the unorthodox priest who married Christian couples in secret. Antonia was ready to take the risk to marry Felix, but Roman Emperor Claudius II had recently outlawed marriage for young men in the army. Claudius felt that single men would make better soldiers than those who were tied to their wives and children. Of course, Felix had his own opinions.

Felix and Antonia were groping in the streets that night, carefully approaching the cloaked priest who’d promised to marry them. Illegally, of course. But with good intentions.

As they got closer, Felix began to see the man’s hand come out of his cloak. Clinging to his weathered finger was a ring with the symbol of Cupid on it. Their one and only clue.

“Valentine?” Felix whispered.

The head sheltered by his cloak’s hood moved slightly. Felix used the dim moonlight to find Antonia’s hand and grasped it. He breathed a sigh of relief too soon; the lovestruck couple weren’t the only ones who had heard of this Valentine, the Christian priest who went against the emperor’s orders.

A voice broke into the darkness. “I see you, all three of you!”

Valentine ran, but he was too late. Confusion fogged the scene. Had Felix and his sweet Antonia escaped? Whose strong hands were grabbing him now? What was going on?

Darkness.

♥ ♥ ♥

Valentine found himself in the same Roman prison cell he’d helped Marcus and his family escape from not even a full moon ago. Marcus had been beaten and tortured twice as much as the other Christian prisoners he’d aided over the last few years. His heart went out to Felix and Antonia, too, and for all the Christians he’d succeeded to marry privately. Deep down, Valentine knew it had all been worth it. The secret marriages, the escaping, the hush-hush business he had against the emperor. All for the greater good. All for the greater God.

Boots clomped by, causing Valentine to open his eyes. His ears rang until he could hear the boots scuffing closer and some rats scurrying about. Valentine groaned. Why did everything hurt so much when he tried to get up? Maybe he’d been beaten too.

“Valentine?” a voice belonging to the boots murmured. Valentine couldn’t see much, but he could figure someone was talking to him outside his cell door. He saw a slight shadow stretching from where the boots were planted. The man who had inquired his name was tall.

“Yes, it is I,” Valentine rasped. His throat felt as if it was lined with gravel.

“You are a Christian priest?”

“Yes,” Valentine gulped. “At least until now, I suppose.”

The man was silent for a few moments. Valentine wondered how he would die.

“I must ask you a favor,” the Roman man whispered. Valentine could hear him bending over into a kneel. “You see, my daughter… She is blind. A disgrace to the family, you know, but if you can, I think,” the man sighed, “I think you may be able to heal her. Please.”

Valentine was taken aback, but tried not to let it show. At least he could die knowing he did something good. “By the power of no one but God Almighty, I can. Please bring her to me.”

“Thank you,” the man said reverently. “Thank you.”

Valentine nodded in reply before realizing the man probably couldn’t even see him. “Sir, may I ask who you are?”

The boots shifted, casting a darker shadow across the floor of Valentine’s cell. “Your jailer,” the man whispered as softly as he could. Then the boots made their way down the dim hall, echoing against the ground each time he took a step.

Valentine tried to count the hours he was in that cell, waiting for the unknown. Maybe the jailer had been caught asking him for such a favor, or perhaps the jailer was toying with him and didn’t mean anything he said. But Valentine remembered the urgency in the man’s voice. He would see the girl soon enough, and afterward, she would be able to see him.

Seconds passed, then minutes, then hours, then more minutes. Valentine prayed fervently.

Finally, he heard the low murmur of voices, one being a bit higher in pitch than the other.

Daylight crept into the building and the jailer was holding his daughter’s hand. He led her to Valentine, who inched up to the prison bars as much as he could. The blind girl’s eyes were open, but didn’t know where to settle. Valentine fished his hands between the cold metal bars, and, shivering, touched her. After saying a prayer for the girl’s healing, the jailer looked upon his daughter with awe. She blinked. Her eyes settled on Valentine immediately, and she thanked him excessively. Her father was overcome with joy, saying, “Valentine, I owe you a great debt. I believe in the power you used to heal my daughter is God’s and God’s alone. What must I do to be saved? To be a Christian, like you?”

Both father and daughter listened to Valentine intently. The girl gazed around the prison, excited to see the ugliest rats.

“If you believe that Jesus came to earth to die for your sin, that He was raised to life three days after His crucifixion, admit to God you are a sinner and that you believe. Everyone needs cleansing that only Jesus brings, but it is your choice to believe in this salvation.”

The jailer prayed with Valentine, as did his seeing daughter.

“My friend, I am overjoyed to welcome you as a brother in Christ and child of God,” Valentine whispered.

“As am I,” the jailer said. Then he sent his daughter home and returned to his duties happily.

Valentine heard the jailer making his rounds awhile later and asked, “May I have something to write with?”

So the jailer gave Valentine paper and a writing utensil. Valentine wrote a letter to the jailer’s daughter with the supplies.

As he was writing, the jailer whispered, “My household believes. We have become Christians, and all of us can see now. Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me. Thank God.”

As night fell, Valentine fought the frigid cold sweeping into his cell. Before long, a pair of boots stomped to where Valentine was being kept prisoner. These boots held feet that Valentine instantly knew were not the jailer’s.

“Valentine,” a gruff voice spat. “Under arrest for helping Christians escape from prison and the persecution under his majesty the Emperor Claudius II Gothicus, and performing marriage ceremonies for Christians illegally in secret, soldiers or civilians. Your sentence for these crimes is death.”

Valentine accepted his fate and followed the Roman guard. Expectedly, Valentine was stoned and then beheaded. It was February 14, 270 A. D.

The jailer gave his daughter the letter. It was signed, from your valentine.

This saint didn’t mean to create such a holiday, but he should always be remembered for his sacrifice of love. This Valentine’s Day, let us remember the first Valentine himself and the selflessness he showed towards those he barely knew.

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The First Valentine