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St Valentine's Day: Lovers flock to Whitefriar shrine

cartoon of man and woman holding hands Image copyright Getty Images

As millions of people across the world give flowers, cards and chocolates to significant others, lovebirds in Dublin are flocking to a church to see the remains of history's most romantic man.

So who was this heart throb?

St Valentine, of course.

The patron saint of people in love was a Roman priest who lived during the third Century AD.

He was jailed and sentenced to death for arranging secret marriages for soldiers, in defiance of a marital ban imposed by Emperor Claudius II.

Legend has it that while in prison he fell in love with the jailer's daughter and sent her a letter on 14 February - the day he was taken to be killed - signed: "From your Valentine."

'Tinged with his blood'

St Valentine's connection to Dublin dates back to the 19th Century, thanks to the work of an Irish priest.

Image copyright Whitefriar Street Church

"Father John Spratt, a former prior of Whitefriar Street, was noted for his relief work with Dublin's poor," explained the church's current prior Fr Simon Nolan.

"He was also a renowned preacher and after a preaching tour of the churches of Rome in 1835 Pope Gregory XVI presented Fr Spratt with the relics of St Valentine as a gift."

The relics were brought to Whitefriar Street Church the following year and have remained there ever since.

Image copyright Whitefriar Street Church

"The current Shrine dates from the 1950s," said Fr Nolan.

"The original accompanying documentation from the Holy See states that the reliquary contains the remains of St Valentine, martyr, together with a small vessel tinged with his blood."

'Not massively romantic'

While hundreds of people are expected to pass through the church's doors on the Feast of St Valentine, one infatuated couple got in on the action early.

Emer Duffy and her fiancé Killian Casey, from Rathfarnham in Dublin, had their engagement blessed by Bishop Denis Nulty at Whitefriar's on Tuesday.

Image copyright John McElroy/Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference
Image caption Bishop Denis Nulty blessed Emer and Killian beside the Shrine of St Valentine

"It was great to mark and celebrate our engagement in a such a special way, especially this week," explained Miss Duffy.

"But we're not massively romantic in the traditional sense."

Mr Casey popped the question during a holiday to Spain last November.

"I hoped taking her away would put her off the scent, as there was a bit of pressure from the family," he joked.

The lovebirds said their Valentine's Day would be a low-key affair.

"We both have busy jobs in IT so we'll use it as an opportunity to spend time together," said Mr Casey.

Image copyright Getty Images

"It's important to make time for the people that matter most," agreed Miss Duffy.

The couple will tie the knot in 2020.

'Gave life for cause of love'

Although 14 February is considered by many to have become another commercial celebration, Fr Nolan said St Valentine's shrine was a reminder of his significance.

"St Valentine stands as a witness to - and a defender and promoter of - love between couples," he said.

"He was willing to give his life for the cause of human love.

"Countless couples come to his shrine at Whitefriar Street to celebrate their love, as do people seeking love."

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