Was St Valentine a true blue Dub?
JUST about everybody knows that St Valentine is the patron saint of lovers. You may have known that he was a priest in Rome in the third century, and if you're really on top of your game, you may even have been aware that he died in jail, but you probably didn't know that his final resting place is Dublin.
In fact the good priests of the Carmelite Order have been looking after his remains in their priory in Whitefriar St, just off Aungier St in Dublin, for over 160 years.
We have a good deal of information about St Valentine, but separating the fact from the legend is a bit like trying to separate a teenage couple at a school disco.
It seems he was martyred in 269, supposedly for marrying couples against the wishes of Emperor Claudius II who felt that single men made better soldiers. Legend would have it that he died for his faith on February 14th of that year, and that this is why we celebrate him on that day. However, it's likely that the fact that we celebrate St Valentine at this time of year is more to do with the ancient Roman spring fertility festival of Lupercalia, which like many other pagan holidays was christianised when in 498 Pope Gelasius decreed that February 14th would be St Valentine's Day.
But how did a Roman Martyr, who had never even set foot in what was later to become an island of saints and scholars, end up in a Dublin church.
In the 1820' and 30's, a Carmelite priest by the name of John Spratt had earned a reputation for his work with the destitute citizens of Dublin's Liberties. A man of apparently boundless energy, Spratt started the building process of the Carmelite church in nearby Whitefriar St in 1825.
Ten years later, he was invited to speak at the Jesuit Church in Rome, the Gesu. The elite of Rome came to hear him, including representatives of Pope Gregory XVI. As a token of recognition of the work of Spratt, the Pope ordered the exhumation of the remains of St Valentine from St Hippolytus cemetery near Rome to be shipped to Whitefriar St Church, in Dublin.
In November 1836, the remains were received with great pomp and ceremony, but with the death of Spratt some years later, the remains ceased to be of major public interest.
Some 40 years ago however, they were restored to the public eye having gathered dust for decades in the nether regions of the priory, and are now featured in a purpose-built shrine in the church itself.
This year on February 14th, at 11am and 3.15pm, as has become customary, there will be a special celebration of St Valentine in the place where he now rests, Whitefriar St Church. Carmelite priest, Fr Tony McKenny will celebrate mass and conduct a ring blessing ceremony for engaged and married couples.
It would appear that neither cohabiting couples nor teenagers need apply!