Today is the feast of St. Valentine, or Valentinus, a priest and a martyr. Not much is known about when he was born. However, we do know that his martyrdom occurred on February 14th, 270 A.D, near a gate that was later renamed Porta Valentini in his memory. His burial place is at the Church of Praxedes in Rome. It is said that a girl named Julia planted a pink-blossoming almond tree near his grave, and even today the almond tree remains a symbol of abiding love and friendship.
During his life the ruler at that time, Emperor Claudius II, declared that unmarried men were potential soldiers and thereby outlawed marriage. St. Valentine opposed this presumptuous act, and continued to marry young couples. When Claudius' endeavour to convert Valentine to paganism ended with Valentine trying instead to convert Claudius to Christianity, the emperor had Valentine arrested and sentenced to death.
Even in prison, Valentine continued to assist the soon-to-be martyrs. His piety was so great that even the jailer respected him, and brought his own daughter Julia to be instructed by Valentine. Julia, a young girl blind from birth, was tutored in the history of Rome. At the same time, Valentine instructed her about God.
As Valentine's execution drew nearer, there was one day where Julia asked him whether or not God truly heard the prayers of those who called on Him. Valentine assured her that He did, whereupon Julia confided that she prayed every morning and night to God, that He might give her sight.
"God does what is best for us if we will only believe in Him," Valentinus said.As they knelt, a brilliant light filled the cell and Julia cried out in amazement, for all of a sudden she could see. Valentine cried out in praise of God, and they knelt in the cell together.
"Valentinus, I do believe! I do!" Julia assured him, and kneeling she grasped his hand.
On the eve of his death he wrote a last note to Julia, urging her to stay firm in her faith and remain close to God. He signed it, "From your Valentine."
Ever since St. Valentine's time, on every February 14th messages of affection and devotion are exchanged everywhere around the world.
A Catholic Life: St. Valentine's Day
Fish Eaters: Feast of St. Valentine