Statue of Saint Valentine, Whitefriars Church, Dublin

Dublin’s Romantic Heart

If you have romantic Irish gifts on your mind, you might enjoy learning a bit about Ireland’s connection to the patron saint of romance and love. You may know the old song with the line ‘I left my heart in San Francisco…’, but did you know someone did leave their actual heart in Dublin? That someone is none other than St. Valentine himself. In fairness, he didn’t leave his heart in Ireland’s capital city himself.

The reliquary containing St. Valentine’s Heart

Valentine was born in Terni, Italy and had a controversial career as a priest or bishop during the rule of Emperor Claudius II. The details differ in different accounts, but the general gist of his life story is that he got in trouble with the Roman authorities for conducting weddings for Christian couples. He was captured and held prisoner in the home of a nobleman. While there, he healed the daughter of the nobleman’s daughter, inspiring the entire household to convert to Christianity. This only angered the emperor more, and Valentine was tortured and killed. He was buried in Terni, but later his relics – parts of his body – were sent to various other places. 

The popular saint’s skull is in Rome, and his heart is in Dublin. Various other relics are in England, Scotland, France, Poland, Malta and the Czech Republic. In addition to his high-profile role as the patron saint of love, engaged and married couples, Valentine is also the patron saint of beekeepers, travelers, and young people. Pictures of St. Valentine traditionally include roses and birds.

How Did St. Valentine’s Heart Get to Dublin?

A lot can change in 1,500 years. When St Valentine was martyred on 14th February in 269 or 270 AD, the Roman Empire was decidedly not Christian. That’s why Valentine was killed. But when Irish priest John Spratt visited Rome in 1835, he was welcomed by Pope Gregory XVI, leader of the Catholic Church, and many other Catholic leaders.

Spratt’s reputation preceded him, thanks to a group of Irish Jesuits who had visited the pope previously. Spratt was a philanthropist, and he’d recently built a new church in his hometown of Dublin. Pope Gregory was so impressed with Spratt that he gifted him a very special relic of the patron saint of love – his heart. That relic has been housed at Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin since 1836.

Many Irish gifts are very romantic. The Claddagh ring features rich romantic symbols and a beautiful backstory of love triumphing against the odds. That famous motif now appears on many different types and styles of Celtic jewelry – not only rings. The infinite loops of Celtic knotwork are another beloved symbol of eternal love.

France and Italy get a lot of attention for being very romantic places, but it’s hard to compete with the wild, roaring Atlantic at sunset or the cozy blaze of a fire in a thatched cottage or a walk down a country lane lined by hedgerows full of singing birds. How could we be anything but romantic when the actual heart of the patron saint of couples is in our capital city?