Blessed St John Duns Scotus, Glasgow

The relics of St Valentine, Blessed St John Duns Scotus, Glasgow

For many people the 'Saint' has dropped off the front of Valentine's Day, but St Valentine is never forgotten in the church of Blessed St John Duns Scotus in Glasgow's Gorbals. If you go there to worship you'll see a gold casket marked "Corpus Valentini Martyris" - the body of St Valentine, Martyr. So what on earth is it doing here?

A helpful leaflet written by the Franciscan Friars who run the church explains it all. In the 19th century, the relics "with all the requisite authentications" were in the possession of a wealthy French Catholic family. As the family started to die out, one member was thoughtful enough to find a home for their unusual heirloom and contacted Fr Stephen Potron, Commissary of the Holy Land in France. At the time, Fr Potron had heard talk on the Franciscan jungle drums of a fine new Friary being built in Glasgow and persuaded Fr Victorin Cartuyvels who was Provincial Minister of the Friars Minor in Belgium to give the casket a permanent home there. In 1868 the relics were sent to the church of St Francis in Cumberland Street, their resting place, until they moved round the corner to their current home in 1999.

The relics are permanently on display in the entrance to the church and as February 14 approaches the Friars decorate the area around the casket with flowers and a statue of St Valentine. On St Valentine's Day special prayers are said for those in love and out of it - those "experiencing difficulties through separation or breakdown are also remembered".

The leaflet also explains that there is really very little connection between St Valentine and the hearts-and-flowers-athon that is the modern Valentine's Day. Geoffrey Chaucer's Parliament of Foules (Parliament of Birds) is the first recorded link between 14 February and romance when it says 'For this was Seyny (St) Valentine's Day when every foul (fowl) cometh there to choose his mate'. It was also traditional for the gentry to swap love notes around this time of year, when everything was stirring. The tradition now associated with St Valentine may even have pre-dated him.

Although the chances of St Valentine ending up here seem fairly slim, a few cities make similar claims. As well as Glasgow, there are bits of St Valentine in Dublin, Birmingham, Vienna and Roquemaure in France. The story is a little unclear but there seems to be an agreement that either one or two Saint Valentines were martyred on February 14 around 270 AD. The rather unlikely set of circumstances that got his remains to the west of Scotland led Glasgow to call itself “City of Love” in 2005 and create a whole love-themed festival. Apart from that, this unusual finding rarely hits the headlines. For the rest of the year St Valentine is left in peace just as he should be.


How to get there

Blessed St John Duns Scotus is at 270 Ballater Street, Glasgow G5 0YT. Masses are at 10am Monday-Friday, 5.30 on Saturdays and 10, 12 and 6 on Sundays. For access at other times contact the Friary.

The church is within walking distance of Glasgow city centre. See map for details.

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I blame my Catholic upbringing but I'm slightly obsessed with relics. The nuns played us a documentary about relics, and there was a bit about Jesus's foreskin. I started paying attention from that moment onwards. xx

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