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St. Valentine, hear my prayer: Why people flock to an unusual shrine in Dublin

by Paul Daly


A glance at the visitor's log of the Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin indicates that it welcomes people from near and far. Last August, I was one of them, on a trip to my old hometown.

The log shows many international visitors, such as Begoña and Marta Morales, two sisters travelling from Spain. They told me they came to pray for love at the shrine to St. Valentine.

Why is there a shrine to St. Valentine in Ireland? In the early 19th century, relics identified as belonging to Saint Valentine were exhumed from catacombs in Rome and then, in a special mass, dedicated to those young and in love.

In 1835, Father John Spratt, an Irish Carmelite priest who was then visiting Rome, so impressed Pope Gregory XVI that he was given some of the remains of Saint Valentine, including "a small vessel of blood" to bring back to Dublin.

On Nov. 10, 1836, the reliquary containing the remains arrived in Dublin. Large crowds followed the procession to the Whitefriar Street Church.

The church, dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, was consecrated in 1827 and is in the heart of Dublin. By 1840 it was too small for its congregation. The required extensions made it one of the largest in Dublin.

Following the death of Father Spratt in 1871, interest in the relics subsided. They were eventually put in storage and were only rediscovered during a major renovation in the 1950s.

An altar and shrine were commissioned, and the reliquary is now displayed on the side altar, where it is frequently visited by those looking for a blessing of their marriage, or to assist them in finding love.

Today, Valentine's Day is a highly commercialized holiday celebrating love and romance, but it has its origins in ancient Rome and a priest called Valentine. Historians struggle to verify what's true, so much of what we know comes from legends that have been passed down through the centuries.

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