Valentine’s Day a very short history

By Kathrin Kobus

Photograph courtesy of Whitefriar Street Church.

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” Wise words of wisdom for gifting from Charles M.Schulz, creator of the Peanuts cartoons.

Chocolate, flowers, cards and other candies, and please husbands, boyfriends, wives or girlfriends depending on your persuasion, nothing useful for the household.

The roots for Valentine’s day go way way back, where else but to the final centuries of the Roman Empire. There are three Saint Valentines in church history. The most probable contender was a temple priest who enraged Roman Emperor Claudius II and got himself beheaded in 278 AD because he had still insisted on wedding prosecuted Christian couples.

Another two hundred year and a bit passed before Pope Gelasius I in the year 496 (or 498) recast a previous Pagan festival  with St.Valentine as patron.

Over centuries it grew into a day to celebrate romance and courtly love during the Middle Ages, mentioned by Geoffrey Chaucer, he of the Canterbury Tales.

Another story behind the 14th of February relates to the middle of the months as the time birds start mating again after the winter.

A proper boost to celebrate the day with exchange not yet of marital vows but confectionary and cards came in the 19th century when sending postcards became increasingly popular.

Dublin itself has its share of true St.Valentine memorabilia beyond heart-shaped cards.

In 1836 Pope Gregory XVI sent the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar street a gold bound casket with earthly relics of one of the supposed holy Valentines as a present to Fr. John Spratt whose fame as a preacher had preceded him and reached Rome where people flocked to hear him when he visited the year before. It was November 10th 1836 that the Reliquary containing the remains arrived in Dublin and were brought in solemn procession to Whitefriar Street Church where they were received by Archbishop Murray of Dublin. The casket was enshrined in the church, the St.Valentine’s Shrine. They were very popular but on Fr Spratt’s death they went into storage. It was not until the 1960’s during a major renovation of the church that they were restored to their place of prominence in the Church.

Each year special masses are held and ‘true’ Valentine’s cards are sold. Today, the Shrine is visited throughout the year by couples who come to pray to Valentine and to ask him to watch over them in their lives together. There is a book that people write all their prayers, petitions and wishes in. Many are returning pilgrims with huge  thanks for wishes and prayers granted. The feast-day of the saint, February 14th, is a very popular one. On the feast-day, the Reliquary is removed from beneath the side-altar and is placed before the high altar in the church and there venerated at the Masses. At the 11.30am and 3.00pm Masses there are special sermons and also a short ceremony for the Blessing of Rings for those about to be married.

This year the masses will be celebrated at the Carmelite Church at the weekend before, on Saturday 10th  at 11.30am and at 3pm.

So no matter if you choose a card or flowers, presents great and small show your affection to someone dear to you, remember: “When you love someone all your saved up wishes start coming out.” Elizabeth Bowen, Irish novelist.