Is Dublin the most romantic city in the world? Alongside its atmospheric bars, loved up places to eat, and ideal routes for amorous strolls, Dublin has another tender trick up its sleeve: it is the resting place for the heart of the patron saint of love: Saint Valentine himself.
It is one of Dublin’s most quiet and beautiful secrets. Dubliners, and those in the know from farther afield, come to seek help in meeting that special person, ask for support in romantic tangles, give thanks for finding The One – or pray that it may continue (!). Yes, Dubliners know all about Saint Valentine’s shrine in the city, but it’s not something they like to shout about.
You won’t find a tacky gift shop, or a swathe of love hearts and roses, instead Whitefriars Church on Aungier Street is a spiritual spot in which to celebrate the source of why we spend February 14th focussing on love and romance.
The Carmelite church is a short stroll from the Merrion Hotel, the route taking you through St Stephen’s Green, and on past the Gaiety Theatre. The relatively small façade, and rather chilly entrance hall belie the size and restrained beauty of the church itself. Once inside, discover rather nice stained glass windows, and half way down the right hand side, a small chapel, in which rests St Valentine’s heart.
So how did it get here?
Valentine was a 3rd Century priest, who was executed in Rome for performing Christian marriages. Risking, and ultimately sacrificing his life for those who wanted to be together forever, it’s no wonder he became the patron saint of love and marriage. Jump forward more than one hundred and fifty years, to 1835, when Irish Carmelite Priest, Father John Spratt, attracted the attention of Pope Gregory XVI.
Like many Irish people, Father Spratt was remarkably eloquent (he had, as we like to say, the “gift of the gab”). His speaking tours attracted crowds of the good and the great in Italian society and, in gratitude, the Pope offered him a token of his esteem. What a token it was! Saint Valentine’s body was exhumed, and his heart was given into the keeping of the Irish priest. This might sound odd, but it was, at the time, common practice to sanctify, and give prominence to sacred spots with relics of significant saints.
When the heart arrived in Dublin on November 10th 1836, large crowds followed the procession to Whitefriars Church. The years passed, Father Spratt died, and Dublin was gripped by turbulence, famine and revolution. Saint Valentine was pretty much forgotten. Renovations to the church in the 1950s led to the rediscovery of the relics, and a special chapel was built.
Visiting the church and shrine is free, though donations are always welcome. Two special masses are also celebrated on Saint Valentine’s Day itself, one at 11.30am and one at 3pm. Visiting the church is a lovely way to remind yourself of the spiritual side of love and romance, and spend a quiet moment or two giving thanks, whatever your faith or belief. Or maybe you simply want to visit and send a prayer that, this time next year, you might be coming back with the one you love.