Shrine of St Valentine, Whitefriar Street Church
Throughout the centuries since Valentine received martyrdom there have been various basilicas, churches and monasteries built over the site of his grave. Many restorations and reconstructions took place at the site, therefore over the years. In the early 1800s such work was taking place and the remains of Valentine were discovered along with a small vessel tinged with his blood and some other artefacts.
In 1835 an Irish Carmelite by the name of John Spratt was visiting Rome. He was well known in Ireland for his skills as a preacher and also for his work among the poor and destitute in Dublin’s Liberties area. He was also responsible for the building of the new church to Our Lady of Mount Carmel at Whitefriar Street. While he was in Rome he was asked to preach at the famous Jesuit Church in the city, the Gesu. Apparently his fame as a preacher had gone before him, no doubt brought by some Jesuits who had been in Dublin. The elite of Rome flocked to hear him and he received many tokens of esteem from the doyens of the Church. One such token came from Pope Gregory XVI (1831-1846) and were the remains of Saint Valentine.
On November 10, 1836, the Reliquary containing the remains arrived in Dublin and were brought in solemn procession to Whitefriar Street Church where they were received by Archbishop Murray of Dublin. With the death of Fr Spratt interest in the relics died away and they went into storage. During a major renovation in the church in the 1950s/60s they were returned to prominence with an altar and shrine being constructed to house them and enable them to be venerated. The statue was carved by Irene Broe and depicts the saint in the red vestments of a martyr and holding a crocus in his hand.
Today, the Shrine is visited throughout the year by couples who come to pray to Valentine and to ask him to watch over them in their lives together. The feastday of the saint on February 14 is a very popular one and many couples come to the Eucharistic celebrations that day which also includes a Blessing of Rings for those about to be married. On the feastday, the Reliquary is removed from beneath the side-altar and is placed before the high altar in the church and there venerated at the Masses. At the 11.00am and 3.15pm Masses there are special sermons and also a short ceremony for the Blessing of Rings for those about to be married.
The Shrine to St Valentine is found on the right hand side of the church as one enters the main body of the church. The casket sits beneath the marble altar in a niche which is protected by an ornate iron and glass gate. Above the altar stands the life-sized statue of the saint set into a marble mosaic alcove. The saint is also barefoot. The casket is wooden and on top bears the papal coat of arms of Gregory XVI along with two large gold plates which have the letter of Cardinal Odescalchi inscribed in English upon them. Between these two plates and beneath the papal crest is a smaller plate with the inscription: This shrine contains the sacred body of Saint Valentinus the Martyr, together with a small vessel tinged with his blood.
The Reliquary contains some of the remains of St Valentine – it is not claimed that all of his remains are found in this casket. There is also included a small vessel tinged with the blood of the martyr. These are contained within a small wooden box, covered in painted paper and is tied with a red silk ribbon and sealed with wax seals (which is the usual way in which relics are contained within reliquaries). This container is inside the casket which is seen beneath the altar. The outer casket has only been opened on a couple of occasions and then only to verify that the contents are intact. The inner box has not been opened or the seals broken.
When the Reliquary arrived in Dublin it was accompanied by a letter, in Latin, which reads:
We, Charles, by the divine mercy, Bishop of Sabina of the Holy Roman Church, cardinal Odescalchi arch priest of the sacred Liberian Basilica, Vicar General of our most Holy Father the Pope and Judge in ordinary of the Roman Curia and of its districts, etc., etc.
To all and everyone who shall inspect these our present letters, we certify and attest, that for the greater glory of the omnipotent God and veneration of his saints, we have freely given to the Very Reverend Father Spratt, Master of Sacred Theology of the Order of Calced Carmelites of the convent of that Order at Dublin, in Ireland, the blessed body of St Valentine, martyr, which we ourselves by the command of the most Holy Father Pope Gregory XVI on the 27th day of December 1835, have taken out of the cemetery of St Hippolytus in the Tiburtine Way, together with a small vessel tinged with his blood and have deposited them in a wooden case covered with painted paper, well closed, tied with a red silk ribbon and sealed with our seals and we have so delivered and consigned to him, and we have granted unto him power in the Lord, to the end that he may retain to himself, give to others, transmit beyond the city (Rome) and in any church, oratory or chapel, to expose and place the said blessed holy body for the public veneration of the faithful without, however, an Office and Mass, conformably to the decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, promulgated on the 11th day of August 1691.
In testimony whereof, these letters, testimonial subscribed with our hand, and sealed with our seal, we have directed to be expedited by the undersigned keeper of sacred relics.
Rome, from our Palace, the 29th day of the month of January 1836.
Regd. Tom 3. Page 291
Philip Ludovici Pro-Custos
The Legend of Saint Valentine
The Roman Martyrology commemorates two martyrs named Valentine (or Valentinus) on February 14 which seems to indicate that both were beheaded on the Flaminian Way, one at Rome the other at Terni which is some 60 miles from Rome. Valentine of Rome was a priest who is said to have died about 269 during the persecution of Claudius the Goth (or Claudius II Gothicus). The other Valentine was allegedly Bishop of Terni, and his death is attested to in the Martyrology of St Jerome. Whether there were actually one or two Valentines is disputed. One possibility is that is two cults – one based in Rome, the other in Terni – may have sprung up to the same martyr but that in the mists of time his true identity became confused.
In ancient Rome, February 14th was a holiday to honour Juno - the Queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses. The Romans also knew her as the Goddess of women and marriage. The following day, February 15th, began the Feast of Lupercalia. At the time the lives of young boys and girls were strictly separate. However, one of the customs of the young people was name drawing. On the eve of the festival of Lupercalia the names of Roman girls were written on slips of paper and placed into jars. Each young man would draw a girl’s name from the jar and they would then be partners for the duration of the festival. Sometimes the pairing of the children lasted an entire year, and often, they would fall in love and would later marry. Under the rule of Emperor Claudius II, Rome was involved in many bloody and unpopular campaigns. Claudius the Cruel was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military leagues. He believed that the reason was that roman men did not want to leave their loves or families. As a result, Claudius cancelled all marriages and engagements in Rome. Claudius had also ordered all Romans to worship the state religion’s idols, and he had made it a crime punishable by death to associate with Christians. But Valentinus was dedicated to the ideals of Christ, and not even the threat of death could keep him from practicing his beliefs. Valentine and Saint Marius aided the Christian martyrs and secretly married couples, and for this kind deed Valentine was apprehended and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. He suffered martyrdom on the 14th day of February, in either 269 or 270.
This is one legend surrounding Valentine’s martyrdom. The second is that during the last weeks of his life a remarkable thing happened. One day a jailer for the Emperor of Rome knocked at Valentine’s door clutching his blind daughter in his arms. He had learned of Valentine’s medical and spiritual healing abilities, and appealed to Valentine to treat his daughter’s blindness. She had been blind since birth. Valentine knew that her condition would be difficult to treat but he gave the man his word he would do his best. The little girl was examined, given an ointment for her eyes and a series of re-visits were scheduled.
Seeing that he was a man of learning, the jailer asked whether his daughter, Julia, might also be brought to Valentine for lessons. Julia was a pretty young girl with a quick mind. Valentine read stories of Rome’s history to her. He described the world of nature to her. He taught her arithmetic and told her about God. She saw the world through his eyes, trusted in his wisdom, and found comfort in his quiet strength.
One day she asked if God really existed and Valentine assured her that He did. She went on to tell him how she prayed morning and night that she might be able to see and Valentine told her that whatever happened would be God’s will and would be for the best. They sat and prayed together for a while.
Several weeks passed and the girl’s sight was not restored. Yet the man and his daughter never wavered in their faith and returned each week. Then one day, Valentine received a visit from the Roman soldiers who arrested him and who now destroyed his medicines and admonished him for his religious beliefs. When the little girl’s father learned of his arrest and imprisonment, he wanted to intervene but there was nothing he could do.
On the eve of his death, Valentine wrote a last note to Julia - knowing his execution was imminent. Valentine asked the jailer for a paper, pen and ink. He quickly jotted a farewell note and handed it to the jailer to give to his blind daughter. He urged her to stay close to God, and he signed it “From Your Valentine.” His sentence was carried out the next day, February 14, 269 A.D., near a gate that was later named Porta Valentini (now Porta del Popolo) in his memory.
When the jailer went home, he was greeted by his little girl. The little girl opened the note and discovered a yellow crocus inside. The message said, “From your Valentine.” As the little girl looked down upon the crocus that spilled into her palm she saw brilliant colours for the first time in her life! The girl’s eyesight had been restored.
He was buried at what is now the Church of Praxedes in Rome, near the cemetery of St Hippolytus. It is said that Julia herself planted a pink-blossomed almond tree near his grave. Today, the almond tree remains a symbol of abiding love and friendship.
In 496 Pope Gelasius I named February 14 as Saint Valentine’s Day. On each Valentine’s Day, messages of affection, love and devotion are still exchanged around the world. This could be because of Valentine’s work in marrying couples against the law, or because of the miracle worked for Julia and the message he left other. Others believe that people in medieval times sent love notes during February because it was seen as the mating season of birds and that Valentine’s feast falling in the middle of the month became the principle day for this.
Compiled from various sources including The New Catholic Encyclopaedia (New York: McGraw Hill. 1967), Butler’s Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and other principal Saints, and from the Encyclopaedia Britannica (London. 1962).
Relics claimed by other places
It is quite possible that the Church of Praxedes, in Rome, does have some of the remains of the saint. A relic can be as small as a scraping of bone or a hair from the head of a saint up to the entire, intact body, as with Blessed Pope John XXIII. In early Christian times it was the custom to build churches over the tombs of the martyrs (as with St Peter’s Basilica and St Paul’s Basilica in Rome) but as time went on this became both impossible and impractical. Instead, the faithful placed parts of the body of a saint in the new altar in the church which meant that the whole body was not used. Therefore, the remains of a saint could be found in many places which does not detract from what is found in any one place or the veneration of the saint by the faithful.
Prayer to St Valentine
O glorious advocate and protector,
look with pity upon our wants,
hear our requests,
attend to our prayers,
relieve by your intercession the miseries
under which we labour,
and obtain for us the divine blessing,
that we may be found worthy to join you
in praising the Almighty for all eternity:
through the merits of
Our Lord Jesus Christ.