Searching for St Valentine

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St Valentines Day is universally dubbed as the day of love, romance, flowers and time spent with soulmates. But when, and more puzzlingly how, did a 3rd century Roman saint, who died nearly 2,000 years ago, come to be associated with love, hearts and kisses?

The ‘real’ St Valentine was a clergyman with matters other than romance on his mind.

The ‘real’ St Valentine was a clergyman with matters other than romance on his mind. Valentine preached to persecuted Christians and was in fact martyred on 14th February 269 AD after being tortured in Rome. There are many legends surrounding his martyrdom, none of them verifiable, but all perhaps potential pointers to his later association with affairs of the heart.

One legend is that while he was in prison waiting to be beaten, stoned and then decapitated, he prayed that his jailer’s daughter, who was blind, be cured. He then penned her a note, the last thing he wrote, for her to read saying ‘your Valentine’. This, we would like to assert, was the first Valentine love note.

He penned his jailer’s daughter a note, the last thing he wrote, for her to read saying ‘your Valentine’.

Some scholars blame Geoffrey Chaucer for connecting Valentine and romantic love in his 14th century ‘Parlement of Foules’. But putting academic theorising to one side, there is a more confusing debate to be had about Valentine and that’s where did his body end up?

Having been martyred for his faith, Valentine’s remains were carefully kept by other early Christians but now, in the 21st century, several different churches across Europe claim to have his bones.

Several different churches across Europe claim to have his bones.

The first, and perhaps most likely contender, is a church in Rome called Santa Maria in Cosmedin which claims a skull, which it displays in a class box, is St Valentine’s. Another rival, a church in Madrid also proudly claims to have his relics, including his skull.

The Carmelite Order in Dublin, at Whitefriars Street Church, also claim that one of their number, John Spratt, was able to charm Pope Gregory XVI so effectively that he was gifted St Valentine’s remains to take home.

And that’s not the end of it either. There are also relics in Poland, France, Savona, Prague, Vienna, Malta, Greece, Birmingham and even Glasgow.

While, its possible that some of these relics could be real and Valentine’s remains could have been spread so far, its unlikely that all of these relics are, in fact, parts of Valentine.

There’s a lot we don’t know about Valentine and a lot is merely myth and legend.

So, there’s a lot we don’t know about Valentine and a lot is merely myth and legend. But, somehow, he has inspired a day of love and affection to our romantic partners. And that can’t be a bad thing after all.

 

Photograph of skull held in Cosmedin church by seriykotik1970 via Creative Commons and Flickr

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