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  • Writer's pictureHugh MacMahon

St Valentine of Dublin

Two days before St Valentine’s Day it occurred to me that I have never visited his shrine in Dublin. He has been there for nearly two hundred years but only in recent times became a celebrity.

I did a quick background search and set out.

How did he get here? He was a Roman bishop-martyr from the 3rd century with no reason to be in Ireland.

The story goes back to the early 1800s when John Spratt, a Carmelite priest, arrived in Rome from Dublin. His talk at the Gesù Church impressed Pope Gregory XVI who gave him the gift of St Valentine’s remains. 

Valentine is said to have been executed for breaking a law of the emperor Claudius forbidding weddings because married men could avoid conscription into the Roman army. While waiting his death he cut hearts from parchment and given them to persecuted Christians, ‘to remind these men of their vows and God’s love’. This led to his connection with romantic relationships and the use of hearts on St Valentine's Day.

But why was Valentine chosen? He was not one of the major martyrs in Rome and his memory faded over the centuries. In the early 1800s his remains were rediscovered during the renovation of an old church and given to Fr Spratt shortly afterwards perhaps to acknowledge his activities in Dublin.

The Catholic Church had only recently received some toleration from the Penal Laws and Fr Spratt has used the opportunity to rebuild the Carmelite Church in the native or Liberties area of Dublin. He also helped organise an interdenominational relief committee during the famine and supported the struggle of tenant farmers. In 1860 he would founded the Catholic Asylum for the Female Blind at Merrion Gates.

On  November 10, 1836, the reliquary containing the remains and a vial of Valentine’s blood arrived in Dublin and were brought in solemn procession to Whitefriar Street. After the death of Fr Spratt interest in the relics lessened and they were put into storage. During a major renovation in the 1950s they were returned to prominence and a shrine was constructed to house them.

Today tourists flock to view the shrine and picture of St Valentine. The regular church-goers seem to regard the visitors as a necessary distraction. I got the impression that, for them, Valentine was not yet a real Dubliner. . 


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