The Irish never get the credit we are due as a nation of romantics. The French and Italians seem to have a corner on the market for European romance, and frankly it just is not fair. Romance is indeed one of our many cultural Irish gifts, and we are not just referring to ‘Kiss Me I’m Irish’ buttons. After all, even the scenery in Ireland is romantic with cobbled streets, ancient ruins and dramatic coastal cliffs. In fact, Ireland is so romantic that St. Valentine himself is a Dubliner.
Now it is true that Valentine never lived in Ireland, and he did not have a say himself in his posthumous relocation to Dublin. Nonetheless, the most romantic day of the year does reside in downtown Dublin. More precisely, some of his relics are at Whitefriar Street Church, not far from St. Stephen’s Green on the south side of the River Liffey.
Not much is known about the historic St. Valentine, and indeed more than saint shares the name Valentine. But the romantic holiday is linked to one who was martyred under Roman Emperor Claudius. He was a bishop in Umbria in Italy, and was known for marrying Christian couples, sometimes to help the husband avoid serving in the Roman army. Once when he was arrested, he converted the governor’s entire household, both family members and servants, to Christianity after restoring sight to a blind child. He was later arrested and killed in Rome when he refused to renounce his faith. He was buried by the state in the city, but his followers removed his remains and re-buried him along the Via Flaminia outside of Rome. Valentine was eventually made the patron saint of love and marriage.
A series of churches were built and re-built over St. Valentine’s grave, and during a construction project in the early 1800s his remains were discovered. In 1835, a popular Carmelite priest named John Spratt visited Rome. His visit was much anticipated as he was widely known for having the Irish gifts of charm and elegant speech, and he did not disappoint. He made such a wonderful impression that Pope Gregory XVI made a gift to him of some of St. Valentine’s relics, which Spratt brought back to Dublin. Those remains are now at Whitefriar Church on Whitefriar Street in Dublin.
Today, Whitefriar Church holds an annual blessing of rings for couples on St. Valentine’s Day. People go to pray about their relationship (or lack thereof) at the home of St. Valentine’s relics throughout the year. Despite its very low key exterior, Whitefriar Church is widely known.
Whether you are shopping for Irish gifts for that special someone on St. Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day or a birthday or anniversary, don’t buy into the notion that the Irish aren’t as romantic as some other Europeans. We are, and we have St. Valentine right in the nation’s capital city to back us up on that!