article about st valentine's and the irish

Valentine’s Day, February 14th, is not a day most people associate with the Irish. And it’s true that the people of the Emerald Isle have no special Irish way in which to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Yes, our Irish Valentine’s flowers, cards and candy are still red, not green, just like the rest of the world!


But, it turns out there is an Irish connection to the original St. Valentine! Before we go into that, it’s important to understand that very little in the way of confirmed facts are known about St. Valentine, even such widely accepted things as why he was made a saint or why he is associated with love.


What we do know is this: he lived and worked during the 3rd century AD, his feast day is February 14th (which has been celebrated since 496 AD) and that he was laid to rest on the Via Flaminia north of Rome. Everything else is shrouded in mystery.


There may even have been as many as three Valentines who were saints and all associated with the February 14th date; the Bishop of Interamna, a Roman priest, and a man who died a martyr in the province (not the continent) of Africa. Some say these were all the same person and so he would have been born and lived in Interamna, worked as a  priest and later became a Bishop.


He was imprisoned and tortured in Rome under the order of the cruel Emperor Claudius and executed on February 14th for illegally marrying Christian couples so the men would not have to go off to war. Claudius’ army was in short supply of soldiers and he had canceled all marriages because of this, in the belief that married men were too reluctant to leave their families and join the army. But even under the threat of death, Father Valentine continued to carry out the Christian ceremony. Perhaps this is partly how his name became associated with a day of love.


There are, of course, many legends surrounding the life of St. Valentine. One of the most touching involved a jailer and his daughter Julia. Before the priest was arrested, a jailer for the Emperor of Rome brought his blind daughter to see Father Valentine at his residence, having heard of his healing abilities, both medical and spiritual. The jailer’s daughter had been blind since birth and Father Valentine knew this would be a difficult case, although he assured the jailer he would do what he could. Father Valentine gave the child some ointment for her eyes and bade her come back for rechecks.


The jailer, having perceived that his child Julia was of a quick mind, asked Father Valentine to teach her which he readily agreed to do. He taught her the history of Rome, lessons from nature, arithmetic and told her about God. A strong bond quickly developed between the two.


On one of her visits with the priest, Julia asked Father Valentine if God really did exist. He assured her that He did. The child told him that she prayed daily that her eyes might be healed and her sight restored. Father Valentine gently told the girl to continue to have faith and that her future, whether she was physically healed or not, was in the hands of the Almighty.


Soon afterward, Father Valentine was arrested and awaited execution in his cell. On the evening of February 13th, he wrote a last note to Julia and gave it to the jailer to give to his blind daughter. He told her to remain close to God and signed the letter “from your Valentine.”


When the child was presented with the note she opened it, only to have a yellow crocus fall into her hands. She could see the brilliant color of the little flower as her sight had now been restored. Pope Gelasius I named February 14 as Saint Valentine’s Day in 496 AD and symbols of love and devotion are exchanged between couples all around the world in memory of his selfless devotion.


So on to the St. Valentine and the Irish. Father John Spratt, an Irish Roman Catholic priest, who lived in the 1800’s, traveled to Rome in 1836 where he gave a brilliant sermon. None other than Pope Gregory XVI took notice and the Pope bestowed a gift on him, a small vessel stained with the blood of St. Valentine along with a letter of authentication of the relic.


Father Spratt returned to Ireland and had the relic and the letter placed in a shrine to St. Valentine in the Carmelite Church on Whitefriar Street ( which is now Aungier Street) in Dublin which is still open to visitors.


If you are Irish (or know someone who is!) there is perhaps a no better symbol of your love than one of our exquisite Irish heart pendants, in sterling silver or gold. After all, St. Valentine has a special bond with the Irish through Father Spratt and this is a lovely way to commemorate your love with that special someone. Happy Valentine’s Day!