13 February 2021

Some thoughts of love
for Saint Valentine’s Day

The shrine of Saint Valentine in the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Many people, especially young couples, are more likely to think of tomorrow [14 February 2021] as Saint Valentine’s Day than as the Sunday before Lent or Transfiguration Sunday.

Despite the pandemic restrictions, thousands of locks may be secured to bridges and fences across Europe, people will try to visit Juliet’s supposed balcony in Verona, and many people may want to visit the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin, where Saint Valentine’s reliquary is traditionally taken from a special shrine in a side chapel and placed before the High Altar.

Saint Valentine is a widely believed to have been a third century Roman martyr. He is commemorated on 14 February, and since the High Middle Ages he has been associated with young love.

Yet, despite his popularity, we know nothing reliable about Saint Valentine apart from his name and the tradition that he died a martyr’s death on 14 February on the Via Flaminia, north of Rome. Many of the stories about his life are mythical and unreliable.

Popular legend says Valentine was a Roman priest who was martyred during the reign of Claudius II, Claudius Gothicus. He was arrested and imprisoned when he was caught marrying Christian couples and helping persecuted Christians.

It is said Claudius took a liking to this prisoner. But when Valentinus tried to convert the Emperor, he was condemned to death. He was beaten with clubs and stones; when that failed to kill him, he was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate.

Many of the legends about Saint Valentine can be traced only to 14th century England and the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer and his circle, when 14 February was already linked with romantic love.

Because of these myths and legends, Saint Valentine was dropped from the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints in 1969. Nevertheless, the ‘Martyr Valentinus who died on 14 February on the Via Flaminia close to the Milvian Bridge in Rome’ is still on the list of officially recognised saints.

The day is also celebrated as Saint Valentine’s Day with a commemoration in Common Worship in the Church of England and in other churches in the Anglican Communion.

The relics of Saint Valentine were given by Pope Gregory XVI as a gift to Father John Spratt, an Irish Carmelite Prior, after he preached a popular sermon in the Jesuit church in Rome, the Gesu, in 1836. Since then, they have been kept in a shrine in the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin.

Although the story of Saint Valentine is inextricably linked with romantic young love, it is good to be reminded of love as we prepare for Lent, which begins next Wednesday, and that our Lenten pilgrimage is a journey towards fully accepting the love of God offered to us through Christ on Good Friday and Easter Day.

May those you love be a blessing to you, and may you be a blessing to those who love you.

The Collect of Trinity VI:

Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
Pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hearts and gifts for Saint Valentine’s Day in a shopfront in Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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