Monday, January 29, 2007

Hearts and flowers

Weeks ago the Christmas shop displays were replaced by Valentine displays; it was one smooth overnight transition.

I've mostly been ignoring the little bears and hearts, but they seep in to your consciousness like osmosis. Which led me to Chaucer. I like to read The Parliament of Fowls at this time of year - it's the earliest recorded association of Valentine's Day with lurve (probably written 1380s. And while I'm inside parentheses, two other tangents: reading Parliament gears me up for the whole April-Canterbury Tales connection, and it has one of the coolest opening lines ever: "The life so short, the craft so long to learn...").

Anyhoo, this morning I tripped over a Dublin connection. It turns out Saint Valentine lives in Dublin.

Okay when I say 'lives' what I actually mean is that his relics, or some of them, reside there. And there's a little vial tinged with his blood. And they're all in a Carmelite Church which is officially on Whitefriars Street but the entrance is on Aungier Street these days (they swapped ends of the church, moved the altar and all).

A famous guy called Spratt (John not Jack) was preaching in Rome in 1835 and the pope gave him the relics of Saint Valentine because as we all know, nothing says 'thank you' like human remains. They were displayed in the Carmelite church, but after his death they were put into storage because no-one really cared (this is pre-Hallmark). In the 1960s the relics were dusted off and now they have their own little shrine.

So there you go. Medieval poetry, bones of third-century saints, and a little bloody vial - all working to counteract the saccharine of the season.

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