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Every February on Valentines Day, people exchange cards and gifts in the name of St Valentine, the Patron Saint of Lovers. But what do we know about this mysterious Saint, and why do we celebrate on February 14th? Who was St Valentine, and is it true that some of his remains are right here in Dublin, Ireland? Let’s go back in time and take a look through the history of Valentines Day….
2000 years ago, the Romans have the most powerful army in the world. Emperor Claudius II begins to have difficulty in recruiting enough young men for all of the battles he is fighting. The warlike “Claudius the Cruel” decides that women and romance are at the root of this problem. He believes that love makes men weak and pulls them away from soldierly duties. Controversially, he outlaws marriage for all potential recruits. Decreeing that single men make better soldiers, he bans engagement and courtship, too.
Saint Valentine is a 3rd Century Christian Bishop living during the Emperors reign in Rome. Bishop Valentine sees the injustice of the Emperors decree. Upholding the law of the church he offers to help couples by continuing to unite them in holy matrimony. He performs many marriage ceremonies (in secret) for the young lovers of Rome. This puts him in direct conflict with the formidable Emperor.
Before long, the Emperor hears about these secret ceremonies and sends armed guards to arrest the Bishop. Valentine is ordered to cease all marriages, to renounce his Christian faith, and to convert to worshipping the gods of Rome. Obviously, he refuses. They promptly imprison Valentine and the Emperor Claudius condemns him to death.
Valentine is executed outside the Flaminian Gate on 14 February 269 AD. He is clubbed to death and subsequently beheaded. Two hundred years later, Pope Gelasius grants him Sainthood in 498 A.D. and the Catholic Church fixes the date of his death as the feast day. This is why we now celebrate Valentines Day on February 14th.
Prior to his death, whilst awaiting execution, Valentine strikes up a friendship with his Roman jailor, Asterius. Asterius’ daughter Julia is blind, and the man implores the Bishop to heal her. Valentine says he cannot guarantee such a thing, but instead prays to God to help him teach the gospels to the girl. They spend long hours together discussing history, nature, and the scriptures. Just before his execution, Valentine asks for a quill and ink.
He writes a farewell message to Julia, and signs it "from your Valentine". (To this day, Valentines Day Cards are still traditionally signed in this way.) Valentine asks his jailer to include a yellow crocus with the note when he gives it to his daughter. Legend says that Asterius gives Julia the letter from Valentine shortly after his death. As she holds it, the crocus flower falls into her lap. She sees the bright yellow colour for the first time in her life. The family rejoices as her sight is fully restored!
This is one of the most noteworthy stories, but several more exist in history and folktales.
By the middle ages Valentine is now one of the most popular Saints. From the 17th century onward, he is considered a romantic hero, and Valentines day celebrations spread throughout Europe. By the mid-18th century it is commonplace for friends and lovers to exchange tokens of affection. Mostly, they are hand-written anonymous love-notes, and gifts of flowers.
In 1847, Esther A. Howland introduces printed cards in the USA. This popularises Valentines day even further and begins to replace the traditional personal letters.
Nowadays, we send over 1 billion Valentines day cards each year! Interestingly, the greetings cards industry says that women purchase 85% of all Valentines day cards! What does that tell us???!! We now consider Valentines day to be a modern, international celebration of love. But to the Irish, there’s an extra special link and association…
In November 1836, a charismatic Irish priest Father John Spratt brings them back from Rome. He receives them as a gift from Pope Gregory XVI. The Pope also sends a letter of authenticity in Latin, which translates:
A solemn procession brings the Reliquary containing St Valentine’s remains to the Carmelite Church. Archbishop Murray of Dublin receives them and leads a special celebration Mass. Many people attend to celebrate their arrival, and there is great delight amongst the Dublin congregation. However, when Father Spratt dies in 1871, public interest in the relics sadly wanes.
The Reliquary and associated items are put into storage for almost a century. During a major renovation in the church in the 1950s they return to prominence. The Carmelites erect a new statue and shrine to St Valentine. On his altar, they place a notice and a book for special prayer requests. Dublin sculptor Irene Broe (1923 - 1992) designs and carves the beautiful statue. She depicts the saint in the red vestments of a martyr, holding a spring crocus flower in his hand.
A simple A4 book still sits on the altar for people to write their prayers for love and marriage. According to the Priest, the book is very popular and fills up quickly. They must replace it approximately every 6 weeks. This shows just how often people petition the Saint for assistance!
St. Valentine’s shrine is directly facing that of St Jude, who is the Patron Saint of Lost Causes. Many wonder if this is a deliberate, and if it is, it’s certainly a help to those whose love may be currently unrequited!
However, there is another shrine just around the corner that also links with St Valentine. St Anne is the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary and there is a humorous old Dublin tradition of single women appealing to her, too.
“Dear St Anne, please send me a man. If he lies or if he dies, please, Mary's mother, send me another!"
In conclusion, we’d like to wish a very Happy Valentines Day to all our readers and customers. If you’d like to show a token of love or affection to someone close, there are so many things to choose from here at Skellig Gift Store. We’d especially recommend our range of Claddagh rings and gifts. You can find out more about the Claddagh at our blog page : Our uniquely Irish Expression of love! If you’re planning to propose marriage this year, Congratulations to you both! Or perhaps it’s a special anniversary? We’d love to help you with your “big day” celebrations.