From Africa to Asia, Europe to America, and down to Australia, February 14 is celebrated as Lovers’ Day in commemoration of Saint Valentine. The day means different things to different people and the celebrations are just as diverse as those who celebrate it. But who is Saint Valentine? His identity is a subject of controversy, shrouded in myths.
In this beautiful piece originally titled “Where in the World Is Saint Valentine?” Jessica Leigh Hester, staff writer with Atlas Obscura digs into the myth to unveil eight places where Saint Valentine can be found today, as she challenges lovers with her question: Why shell out for chalky candy or saccharine cards this February 14 when you can go relic-hunting instead?
Enjoy the full article below…
If you’re a romantic or chocoholic, you might crush on Valentine’s Day, but if your tastes skew more toward the macabre—say, actual organs instead of heart-shaped cards—you might feel more flushed when you think about relics. In that case, none will titillate you quite like bones or blood around the world said to have come from the body of Saint Valentine himself.
Several churches, from Chełmno, Poland, to Florissant, Missouri, claim to possess some of the saint’s remains. But there are a couple more wrinkles to the story. For one, the true identity of Saint Valentine is fuzzier than a stuffed teddy bear. The name “Valentine,” or something like it, was popular in the Roman Empire, probably owing to its association with Latin words that emphasize strength and power, and there are thought to be a few saints with that name.
The 15th-century Nuremberg Chronicle recounts the saga of one Valentine—a Roman priest—martyred in the third century for helping out Christians, who weren’t beloved by the emperor, Claudius II, or Claudius Gothicus. Other accounts describe Saint Valentine as the Bishop of Terni, Italy. The history of Saint Valentine’s association with amorousness is a little murky, too. Some scholars think it might have begun as a revamp of the ancient festival of Lupercalia. Others suspect that the romantic trope is largely an invention of Geoffrey Chaucer and his pals, who cast the saint in poems about lovers, both human and avian.
The relics could be from one of the Saints Valentine, or from someone else entirely. And there’s a problem common to the world of holy relics: duplicates. Several churches claim to have his skull—but as far as we know, Saint Valentine, whoever he was, only had one head. (Unless, or course, there were two of him.)
We can’t promise that any of these relics really came from the man whose name launched a thousand greeting cards, but here are eight places you can (allegedly) meet Saint Valentine, just in time for his feast day on February 14.
1. In Rome, Italy, at the Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin is a flower-flanked skull in a windowed reliquary claimed to be Saint Valentine’s skull.
2. Until 2002, a bone – believed to be Saint Valentine’s shoulder blade – was languishing in the basement of the Basilica of Saints Paul and Peter in Prague, Prague, Czech Republic.
3. Iglesia de San Antón (Saint Anthony’s Cathedral) in Madrid, Spain claims to house yet another one of Saint Valentine’s skulls.
4. For a century, relics in a wooden box, believed to be the body of Saint Valentine sat in complete anonymity at Saint Francis Church in Glasgow, Scotland, before it was relocated in 1999 to the nearby Blessed St. John Duns Scotus where it has been given a place of honour at the church’s entrance.
5. In a parish church in Chelmno, Poland, a bit of bone revered as the skull of Saint Valentine is stored in a silver reliquary, where they can be glimpsed and kissed through glass.
6. At the Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin, Ireland, a little box, stored in a casket, is said to contain some bones of Saint Valentine – and a bit of his blood.
7. Desperate to reverse some bad luck with wine, a local landowner is said to have brought some of Saint Valentine’s bones from Rome in the 1860s to the church in Roquemaure, France.
8. At Old St. Ferdinand Shrine in Florissant, Missouri, USA is a wax effigy of Saint Valentine said to hide one of his relics.
Source: Atlas Obscura