How St Valentine Found His Way To Dublin
Posted on Feb 13, 2019 by Dawn Rainbolt
St Valentine is known throughout the world as the patron saint of lovers – and February 14th has forever become associated with love and romance.
Cards, flowers, chocolate, and little pink hearts decorate shops across the globe.
While the idea of recognising various saints and feasts days has fallen out of practice, there are a small handful of saints who continue to be associated with certain days of the year in which they are celebrated – St Patrick & March 17th being the most well-known – and of course St Valentine.
So how did a Roman saint whose life was spent 2,500 kilometres from Ireland end up in a shrine in Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin?
It all started in the early 200s in the capital of the Roman Empire. Little is known with certainty about St Valentine’s life, and much of what is known is likely an amalgamation of various legends and perhaps even various saints. What is known (or at least recognised today) is that St Valentine was born in Rome, and martyred and buried on the Via Flaminia near the Eternal City sometime in the mid 3rd century. Today he is recognised as the patron saint of love, couples and happy marriages.
There are many stories about his life and as with most ancient people – certainly anyone associated with religion or mythology – true historical facts are hard to discern. So we’ll have to take the story of St Valentine with a grain of salt.
As it turns out, at one point in his life, St. Valentine was the Bishop of Terni, Narnia (today known as Narni) and Amelia – which in itself is a fascinating coincidence since CS Lewis’ fantastical world of Narnia, detailed his is seven-part epic tales, The Chronicles of Narnia, is said to be based largely on landscapes and castles in Northern Ireland, where Lewis spent his childhood. (Read more about Northern Ireland’s connection with the famous children’s book series here).
The story goes that St Valentine was on imprisoned in Rome for marrying Christian couples, with his jailor a prominent local influence, the Judge Asterius. While discussing religion and Christianity, Asterius put Valentine to a test – could he and his faith cure the judge’s blind daughter? When St Valentine succeeded, Judge Asterius vowed to convert to Christianity and was baptised, later releasing those who were imprisoned for their Christian beliefs. It is simple stories such as this one that are often associated with saints – tales of purity, of faith, of baptisms.
Another story puts St Valentine on level with the highest in the Roman Empire. Arrested once again for marrying Christian couples as well as converting people to Christianity, the St Valentine of this story was able to get to the ear of Emperor Claudius II, building a relationship with him until he tried to convert the emperor and was beheaded for his efforts. (This story possibly references a different saint of the same name.)
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It is said that on his execution day, St Valentine sent the once-blind but now cured jailor’s daughter a note that was signed “Your Valentine” – a feat that possibly gave rise to popular custom of making Valentine’s Day cards and asking a someone “to be my valentine.”
Though it’s hard to verify any of this, the question still remains – why is Saint Valentine in Ireland so far from home?
The story goes back to the 1800s. The then-famous preacher, Father John Spratt, had travelled to Rome where he was invited to speak at the Church of the Gesù where some of Rome’s most faithful had come to hear him preach. Many listeners also offered him ‘tokens’ of gratitude and respect – some of which came in the form of relics. One such admirer was Pope Gregory XVI, who bestowed upon Fr Spratt the gift of St Valentine’s remains and a vial of his blood. This simple wooden box trimmed with a silk ribbon and wax seal travelled back to Ireland with the good father, arriving on the island in November of 1836.
Since then, St Valentine’s relics have been set in a lovely little shrine in a small alcove to the right of the main alter of Whitefriar Street Church (also called Our Lady of Mount Carmel). On Valentine’s Day every year, St Valentine’s reliquary (the box containing his remains and the vial) are set in the place of honour on the high alter, amidst a blessing of the rings ceremony. Local and visiting couples alike are invited to attend this long-standing tradition! Throughout the year, others are welcome to visit St Valentine’s shrine, leaving him notes of gratitude or asking for his guidance and advice.
So there you have it – St Valentine’s epic journey from ancient Rome to modern Dublin.
St Valentine’s Day is celebrated worldwide on February – a remnant of celebrating saint’s days, or feast days. St Valentine is the patron saint of lovers, couples, and happy marriages.
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