The Lost Letter of Valentinus
I had never believed in love until the letter. Sex yes, but that other ridiculous idea, no. I fell for her at the same time as I came across the story of the blind girl and the saint. Forced to choose a topic for my final Latin dissertation, I had decided to stir things up a bit. There were only three of us left in the honours Latin class and my fellow students, Laurence and Simon, had chosen topics which were suitably lacklustre and therefore guaranteed to succeed.
‘On Catullus’ how to start a farm’ was Laurence’s choice- riveting stuff! But not to compare with Simon’s offering ‘The Development of the ‘Testudo’ – the turtle tactic in Roman Warfare’. When Caesar’s minions were being attacked by those blue faced Celts, the legionnaires would ban together like a rugby scrum with their shields on their heads and move slowly just like a turtle, towards their goal. I didn’t consider this a topic to stimulate the imagination and enthral the reader.
Original Research from primary sources’ Brother Alphonsus had demanded for the 5,000 word essay and original it would be. The party line stated that Saint Valentinus was martyred by the Romans for marrying couples in Christian services. However I was going to shake up the image of that po-faced, weedy looking saint whose statue I had seen in Rome on a trip with my parents.
‘If only you would put that insolent mind of yours in the direction of intellectual rigour, Cusack’ Brother had all too often remarked. Standing in the centre of the room with a mournful expression on his liver-marked face he would slowly move towards me, the smell of coal tar soap arriving before the swift ‘Thwack’ on the head with his favourite Latin tome. It was worth every sadistic bruising to perturb that reptilian’s equanimity. I once replied to one of his cutting remarks with ‘ Nemo me impugne lacessit’* and strangely just for that one instance, he was lost for words.
What I really wanted to do was create doubt. The sin of doubt was considered one of the worst to members of the faith. What if I could prove that Valentinus, instead of being the pious stalwart of the church, was instead a randy brute who couldn’t keep his hands of that innocent and blind daughter of his jailer?
I remembered parts of the story as told with florid articulation by the Italian tour guide.
‘Eff-er-ry day, she would come to visit the saint. The beautiful brown eyed Julia, she who was blind and ask-ed Valentino for God to make her see’
Italians love romance don’t they? Even between a holy man and blind teenager.
But Julia…I wished it had been another name. I could have changed it but Alphonsus would have twigged and there would go my credibility.
‘From your Valentinus’ the letter had ended and with it began the birth of a multi-million dollar love industry lasting centuries. But the rest of the missive was lost so I decided to recreate it, giving an altogether different version of the saint’s words and intent.
Julia Agnes Mahoney.
I fancied her ever since we were forced together at the dance. We weren’t supposed to touch their waists but Julia didn’t mind and even laughed at my feeble attempts at a joke. Her dark brown hair was so clean its squeaked and she smelt of something like violets, my mother’s favourite perfume.
‘Like my fringe?’ She asked when she caught me staring at her luminescent green eyes.
‘I did it myself!’ and all I could say was ‘Yeah, it’s really straight…’ before she revealed her small polished teeth and pink gums. It was when she turned around at the end of the night and gave me a soft smile and tiny wave that sent me spinning into a strange new world of yearning. And so the poor Julia whom I was about to turn into a martyr for being so casually raped by the evil Valentinus, bore the same name as my beloved.
I came across the book quite by accident at a local bookshop. Mr Tarleton the owner, was said to be ‘an iconoclastic Satanist ‘ in the words of the head brother Gregory. Naturally such a place was perfect for my rigorous and highly original research. The title grabbed my attention ; ‘A True Hagiography: The Scandalous Lives of the Early Saints’. The story of Valentinus was third last in the six hundred page book. Rapists, pirates, murderers, sodomites…you name it they were all there, every one a saint.
Here lay what I sought- an opposite view of Valentinus, devout Christian ready to flaunt the might of Rome for the propagation of the faith. The account revealed how he had seduced the jailer’s daughter for a bit of fun before she snuck him the keys so he could escape.
I completed Valentinus’ letter in perfect Latin but half way through I realised it was a love letter to my beloved Julia. My original shone with phrases like ‘ You are simply beautiful…I love your smell’. I spent the night wrestling with words trying to make it sexy and depraved, instead it read like Romeo’s declaration of love for Juliet.
I turned it in the next morning as it was too late to start anything different. Two days passed then the summons to the Head’s office.
‘Perversion’ he called it ‘To think that a sixteen year old boy…’ I tuned out because I knew what was coming and wanted to yell an ecstatic ‘Yes!’.
After the expulsion it didn’t take long for my parents to place me in a new school, a state one that didn’t teach Latin. It was across the road from the girls’ school which Julia attended.
Sin pays, just ask any saint.
*‘No-one attacks me with Impunity’