This Valentine’s Day, we at The Flower Factory would like to put a little history behind the tradition with the story of Valentinus.
Valentinus was one of the most influential Gnostic Christian teachers of the second century A.D. He started a movement which spread throughout Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Even though persecution by the Catholic Church, the Valentinian School endured for over 600 years. Valentinus’ influence is strong even today.
Valentinus was a second century Christian mystic and poet. He is, at times, referred to as a “Gnostic” because of the importance that mystical knowledge (gnosis) plays in his thinking. Valentinus was born in Phrebonis in Upper Egypt about 100 AD and was educated in nearby Alexandria. It was there where he became a disciple of the Christian teacher Theudas who had been a disciple of Saint Paul. He said that Theudas taught him secret wisdom that Paul had taught privately to his close friends.
Like many early Christian mystics, Valentinus said that that he had a vision of the resurrected Christ. Shortly after his vision, he began his journey as a Christian teacher at Alexandria around 120AD. His esoteric theology attracted a large following in Egypt and Syria. In 136 AD, he traveled to Rome after stopping for a time in Cyprus. In Rome he was quickly considered important and was largely respected for his eloquence. He was so well regarded in the Roman church that in 143 AD he was a candidate for the office of bishop. It seems likely he refused the position. He continued to teach in Rome for at least ten more years.
During the last weeks of Valentinus’s life an amazing thing happened. Seeing that he was a studying man, the jailer asked whether his daughter, Julia, might be brought to Valentinus for teaching. She had been blind since birth. Julia was a pretty young woman with a fast mind. Valentinus read her stories of Rome’s history. He described the world of nature to Julia. He taught her arithmetic about God. She saw everything through his eyes, she trusted his wisdom, and found comfort in his strength.
“Valentinus, does God really hear our prayers?” Julia asked one day.
“Yes, Julia, He hears everyone’s prayers.”
“Do you know what I pray for every day? I pray that I may 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! I do!” She knelt and grasped his hand.
They sat quietly together, each praying. Suddenly there was a brilliant light in the prison cell. Radiant, Julia screamed, “Valentinus, I can see! I can see!”
“Praise be to God!” Valentinus exclaimed, and he knelt in prayer.
The night before his death Valentinus wrote a last note to Julia, pleading with her to stay close to God. 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 planted a pink-blossomed almond tree near his grave. Today, the almond tree remains a symbol of never-ending and abiding love and friendship.
Nothing certain is known of his later career. He may have died at Rome around 155 AD. According to a late source, he left Rome and went to Cyprus. Some of the legends about “Saint Valentine” probably reflect the lasting prestige he enjoyed at Rome. After Valentinus’ death, his disciples further developed his ideas and spread them throughout the Roman Empire.
Every year on February 14th, Valentine’s Day, messages and gifts of affection, love, and devotion are exchanged around the world. We at The Flower Factory are honored to be part of this tradition and wish all of our friends- a beautiful day!