article-imageSkull of St. Valentine (photograph by Lawrence OP)

For a guy who’s been dead for the better part of two centuries, St. Valentine sure gets around.

With a flower-crowned skull in Rome, relics in fancy boxes in Dublin and Glasgow, and unspecified parts in Missouri, there are plenty of opportunities for the romantically inclined traveler to get up close and personal with some saintly parts this Valentine’s Day. For those in the Czech Republic, the holy shoulder blade was discovered recently in a basement in Prague.

The patron saint of couples and love, it is commonly understood that Valentine was sainted for his act of marrying couples in in secret ceremonies, in defiance of Roman Law. This is most likely nonsense, even if we could sort out exactly who Valentine was, exactly. Regardless, ceremonies honoring Valentine’s traditional identity have been celebrated in some way since 496, when the feast day of February 14 was first established. For reasons I have not been able to clearly explain, Valentine is also the patron saint of bee keepers, epileptics, and the plague*.

As we noted elsewhere, the story of just who St. Valentine was is itself more confusing than most saint’s tales - and most of them are pretty confusing.

“Little is really known of the real man (or men) behind the myth. What is known (more or less) is that at least two men by the name of Valentine (Valentinus) were known in Italy and died in the late 3rd century, and a third Valentine was located in North Africa around the same time. The two Italians were buried along Via Flaminia. As a saint, Valentine first gained real notoriety in 496 when Pope Gelasius I made February 14, originally part of the Roman festival of Lupercalia, a feast day dedicated to St. Valentine. The stories of the different men seem to have merged into one over time, with most of the mythology about Valentine being a patron of lovers, helping early Christian couples to marry in secret, only dating to the 14th century and the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer.”

St Valentine

Some guy in a fancy outfit, possibly named Valentine. Who knows.

The thing is, the more you read, the more confusing it gets … and more skulls pop up.

No matter who they might actually belong to, the assorted parts of St. Valentine have been busy over the centuries saving crops and healing the ill. In Roquemaure, France the saintly relics vanquished vineyard eating pests and ended the Great French Wine Blight. That happy ending is celebrated annually with a festival of kissing, which seems very French of them.

With all of the skulls and shoulder blades kicking around, were you to gather all of the alleged parts of St. Valentine one might be able to assemble them into a many-headed Super Valentine, destroyer of lonliness. This we would pay to see.

We have found seven romantic  pilgrimage destinations for happy couples, illicit lovers, bee keepers and epileptics alike.

*One assumes that is “of plague sufferers” not actually to be invoked in favor of the Black Death. One assumes.


St. Valentine Relics in Rome - Atlas Obscura

Rome, Italy

A skull resides in a glass reliquary in a small basilica in Rome, surrounded by flowers. Lettering painted across the forehead identify the owner as none other than of the patron saint of lovers, St. Valentine.

St. Valentine Relics in Poland - Atlas Obscura

Chelmno, Poland

A 17th century silver reliquary holds what may or may not be parts of the martyr’s skull

St. Valentine Relics in Prague - Atlas Obscura

Prague, Czech Republic

St Valentine’s shoulder blade was discovered in 2002, while sorting through a church basement, now on permanent display and celebrated with a mass every February 14th.

St. Valentine Relics in Dublin - Atlas Obscura

Dublin, Ireland

These remains of Saint Valentine were a gift from Pope Gregory XVI.

St. Valentine Relics in France - Atlas Obscura

Roquemaure, France

These saintly remains were brought in from Rome to battle the Great French Wine Blight.

St. Valentine Relics in Glasgow - Atlas Obscura

Glasgow, Scotland

Donated in 1868 by a wealthy French family: a small wooden box labeled “Corpus Valentini Martyris,” or ‘the Body of Saint Valentine.’

St. Valentine Relics in Missouri - Atlas Obscura

Florissant, Missouri

The king of France made a gift of bits of St. Valentine, now safely stored inside a life-like effigy of the saint.