The Original Valentine Love Story
By Jim Johnson
In 266 AD, Ben Messala was selected from the Imperial Roman Army to join the elite Praetorian Guard. Ben was assigned to the senate team for general protection. One night he was sent to protect Emperor Claudius. That night an assassin broke into Claudius’ bedchamber and attempted to attack him. Ben, who was highly trained and skilled in sword fighting, soon fought off the attacker and killed him. Claudius was so impressed with Ben that he made him part of his personal security detail. Ben would travel with Claudius during particularly risky and important events. He was given a room at the palace to be close to Claudius and soon became a loyal and trusted advisor.
Miriam Drusus was a young and pretty servant—a slave, really—in the emperor’s palace. She had been born a Roman citizen, but her family had converted to Christianity, which was illegal at that time. Many of the members of her family had in fact been arrested, executed, or sent to face the lions in the Roman Coliseum. Miriam, however, had been spared because she was so young, and was kept as a slave. She was beautiful, and the palace needed slaves to cook and to serve the Praetorian Guards.
In the years to come, as Miriam grew to be an adult, the Romans stopped the widespread persecution of Christians. Miriam was set free and restored to citizenship. Now a paid servant, Miriam had already become a talented cook, and was known to the Praetorian Guards, who appreciated the meals she made and brought to them.
That’s how Miriam met Ben. The two of them soon became lovers, and Ben wanted to marry Miriam, but Roman law stated that young Praetorian Guards could not marry. Senators felt that marriage would cause the army and guards to lose their fighting edge. In addition, it was felt that saboteurs could kidnap a young wife and thus blackmail a married Guard.
It was during this period that a Catholic priest, named Valentinus, took on the dangerous mission of performing secret marriages for both Praetorian Guards and soldiers in the Imperial Roman Army. One of the marriages he performed was for Ben and Miriam. After their marriage, Ben and Miriam sought out Valentinus for religious advice, and he soon became their priest.
Eventually, Valentinus was arrested for performing these illegal marriages. He was brought before a Roman judge and told that if found guilty, he would be executed. However, the judge had a blind daughter. If Valentinus could restore his daughter’s sight—and promise not to perform illegal marriages—the judge would give him his freedom. It is said that Valentinus did perform this miracle. The judge’s daughter’s sight was restored. However—Valentinus continued to marry Roman soldiers.
It came to Emperor Claudius’s attention that this rogue priest was performing marriages for members of his army and the Praetorian Guards. As luck would have it, Claudius sent Ben to investigate. Ben went to Valentinus and suggested that he leave Rome and escape Claudius’ wrath. However, Valentinus wanted the opportunity to convert Claudius to Christianity. He insisted that Ben set up an audience with the emperor. However, before that meeting could take place, a court spy told Claudius that his trusted servant Ben had himself been married by Valentinus.
To his credit, Claudius allowed Valentinus to be brought before him so he could hear what the priest had to say. The emperor listened to the priest’s arguments for becoming a Christian, but rejected them. Instead, he asked Valentinus point-blank: Did he marry army and Guard members? Valentinus replied that he did. Claudius then asked Valentinus if he had married Ben—but before the priest could answer, Ben came forward himself and confessed. Thus disappointed in his trusted advisor, Claudius decreed that since Ben had saved his life, he would spare him and his wife, but banish them both to Spain. But for Valentinus, the only remedy was death. Claudius ordered his execution—to take place on February 14, 269.
The story goes that, prior to his execution, Valentinus sent a note to Ben and Miriam and signed it “your Valentine.” And now you’ve heard the rest of the story!