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Valentine lore is music to uke ears Richard Peña | Sat, Feb 15 2014 12:00 PM

Anyone who has ever listened to the Merrie Ukes, Bonita’s own ukulele ensemble, has to admit that they hear pleasant music.  A visitor to the Bonita/Sunnyside Library community room on most Tuesday mornings will be treated to melodious sounds heard in few places in the South Bay. That much is guaranteed.

But this is not all that the group has to offer.  It is comprised of a group of individuals that are probably as diversified as any one group can get.  The other day I was reminded of this when Scott Humphries made his weekly talk.  Humphries, an accomplished and learned musician, generally talks about some facet of music, history or the folks that made musical history.  This time he spoke of Valentine’s Day and how it came about.        

The gist of Humphries talk was about Valentinus, a Saint of the Catholic Church who lived around the 3rd century.  It hit close to home because I have written about St. Valentine a few times in the past.

The story regarding Valentine is a bit vague and much of it is based on legend. There are some stories that tell us that there were two Valentines. But there are other historians who believe that Valentine, a traveler, got around so much that it seemed like he was two persons, but in reality only one.  Unfortunately, Valentine came around at a negative time for Christians. The Roman emperor at the time was Claudius II a fellow who might make Nero or Caesar appear as gentle as kittens. Claudius, for example, had decreed that Christianity was illegal and further stated that there were twelve gods that should be adored.  To be a Christian was a crime punishable by death.

Valentine knew this but his belief in Christianity was too strong.  He continued his preaching and his travels until he was arrested and jailed awaiting execution.

During the last few days of Valentine’s life a remarkable thing happened. Seeing that he was a man of learning the jailer asked if his daughter might not be brought into the jail for learning.  The daughter, Julia, had been blind since birth.  Julia was a pretty, young girl with a quick mind.  Valentine read stories to her about Roman history.  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 to his wisdom and found comfort in his quiet strength.

“Valentine does God really hear our prayers?” she asked one day.

“Yes,” answered Valentine.  “He hears each one.”

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

“God does what is best for us if we only believe in him,” Valentine said.

“Oh, yes.  I do believe in him,” Julia replied as she took Valentine’s hand.

They sat both together, praying.  Suddenly there was a brilliant light in the jail cell.  “Valentine, I can see, I can see,” exclaimed an excited Julia.

“Praise be to God,” was Valentine’s reply.

On the eve of Valentine’s execution he 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 dedicated to him.

He was buried in Rome.  Nearby the grave is a pink blossomed almond tree.  Legend says that it was planted by Julia herself.  The almond tree stands as a symbol of love and friendship, by many cultures.

Today is St. Valentine’s day.  Perhaps it is a bit impractical to plant an almond tree.  It is, however, highly practical to give that box of chocolates or those roses to the one we love. Or for that matter give or do something nice to the neighborhood grouch. I’ll bet it would make a difference.

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