Saint Valentine, patron saint of lovers, is an Irish saint ... by adoption at least. His remains can be venerated in the Dublin's Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church. Where also a special mass for lovers is held every 14th of February. Maybe the place to be when spending Saint Valentine's Day in Dublin with your beloved.
Who was Saint Valentine?
Valentine, or in Latin Valentinus, is the name of several martyrs. The Valentine we celebrate on February 14th lived in ancient Rome and, after being martyred, was buried at the Via Flaminia. That's about the whole story – and the date was so iffy, as were the stories surrounding Valentine, that the commemoration was not kept in the Roman Catholic calendar of saints as revised in 1969. Nonetheless „Martyr Valentinus the Presbyter and those with him at Rome“ are still to be found in the list of saints proposed for veneration by all Catholics. Ina sort of general way. By the way: Valentine never featured in the earliest list of Roman martyrs, compiled around 354.
Origins of Saint Valentine's Day
The feast of St. Valentine (commemmorating his date of death) was established by Pope Gelasius I in 496 – who quite cunningly described the martyr as being one of those revered by the faithful despite his acts being „known only to God“. Gelasius thus neatly solved, or rather avoided, the problem of there being no less than three Valentines supposed to have suffered martyrdom mid-February: A priest in Rome, a bishop in Interamna (Terni) and a „civilian“ martyr in Africa.
Saint Valentine as Patron Saint of Lovers
First pictorial impressions of Saint Valentine appeared as late as 1493 – a woodcut „portrait“ complete with a background story. This Valentine seems to have been a Roman priest arrested for marrying Christian couples. Despite being a criminal in the eyes of the law,Valentine managed to win the friendship of Emperor Claudius II. Taking this as a good omen, Valentine proceeded with his efforts to convert Claudius II to Christianity. For his pains he was beaten to a pulp with clubs, then stoned, finally beheaded and buried outside the Flaminian Gate around the year 270.
And all this because he was the marrying kind ... which made him a prime candidate to become the patron saint of lovers.
Some historians contest that Valentine is a pure fiction, invented to hijack the pagan holiday of Lupercalia. As to the stories surrounding Valentine they are certainly correct in regarding them as fiction. Many first appeared in the fourteenth century in England, even written by Geoffrey Chaucer and friends, celberating roimantic love on February 14th.
A Traveling Saint – The Relics of Valentine
Some sources insist that both the Roman priest and the bishop of Terni were buried along the Via Flaminia, sharing the same feast day. Which made searching for relics interesting, to say the least. Nonetheless, in 1836 relics exhumed from the catacombs of Saint Hippolytus on the Via Tiburtina were identified as being the earthly remains of Saint Valentine. It seems to me that CSI:Vatican certainly knew how to work miracles with this positive identification.
The remains were swiftly placed in a casket and then whisked off to the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin. This was an official donation by Pope Gregory XVI, intended to provide a focus of veneration for the re-emerging Catholic faith in Ireland. At this time Roman Catholics were finally allowed out of the closet, but most ancient relics were missing and churches taken over by the Church of Ireland. By providing a bona fide 3rd century saint for Dublin, Gregory managed to bestow some instant antiquity on the Carmelite church.
More Valentines Worldwide
Mind that further relics of Saint Valentine are plentiful: In Roquemaure (France), on Malta, in the Stephansdom (Vienna, Austria), in the Birmingham Oratory (UK) and in Blessed John Duns Scotus Church in Glasgow's Gorbals. Strangely enough this would have served a similar social stratum as Whitefriar Street in Dublin. Even stranger is the fact that the Birmingham relic is supposed to be the complete body of Saint Valentine, given to Cardinal Newman by Pope Pius IX in 1847 – a bookkeeping error in the Vatican?