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Revd Barry Overend; Valentine – the Bare Bones

Revd Barry Overend

Bolton Abbey Parish Magazine

February 2019

Valentine – the Bare Bones

Valentine was a fourth century Roman soldier destined for high rank. He gave up worshipping the Roman gods once he had converted to Christianity. It was not a good career move. As soon as the Emperor got wind of it, Valentine was arrested, imprisoned and subsequently martyred for his new faith. That much is probably true. The rest of Valentine’s story is long on legend, short on facts. One legend says that whilst in prison Valentine took a shine to the jailer’s daughter, sending her a written message – the first Valentine greeting.

Valentine was buried in Rome, but eventually his bones, or at least some of them, were dug up and later turned up in France. There they were looked after for centuries by a wealthy Roman Catholic family. Over time that family dwindled until the last surviving member no longer wanted the responsibility of caring for ‘dem dry bones’. So about 160 years ago he passed the buck, or rather the casket, to some Franciscan friars who were building a church in Glasgow. That is where Valentine’s bones rested until 1993. During the upheaval caused by renovation work on the church, the bones were kept in a cardboard box on top of a wardrobe. Now that really is no way to treat what is left of a saint. Hence the bones had to be on their way again. They finally came to rest in Blessed John Duns Scotus church in Glasgow. Having a bit of Valentine – some say just the forearm – in Glasgow has led to it being dubbed unofficially ‘the City of Love’. On Valentine’s Day a statuette of the saint is placed beside the relic and decorated with red roses. And it’s not unknown for marriage proposals to be made in front of the ornate chest containing the bone/s. A former rector said, ‘They just come in, and you see one of them get down on the knee’.

If Glasgow has only the forearm, where is the rest of Valentine? His skull is reckoned to be in Santa Maria Basilica, Rome, with further bones allegedly being deposited in Whitefriars Street Carmelite church in Dublin, and other bits and pieces in France, Malta, and the Czech Republic. Have you checked your shed?

Love, they say, makes the world go round. So perhaps it’s appropriate that Valentine’s bones seem to have gone round with it.

Barry Overend