You can see St. Valentine's skull in Rome, Source: Lawrence OP on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED)

You can visit the real Saint Valentine, or at least his skull

You can visit the real Saint Valentine, or at least his skull

All you have to do is head to Rome and seek out an ancient and quite peculiar church there

14 February is Saint Valentine’s Day, celebrating romantic love, but who was Saint Valentine? That’s a question that historians have not been able to fully separate fact from legend, but what’s sure is that there must have been such a person, or even two… or three. The good, albeit not very romantic news, is that you can visit a part of him in Rome even today – that is if you don’t mind looking at his skull.

Generally, it is accepted that Valentine (or Valentino) was a Christian martyr, who lived in the third- or fourth-century Roman Empire and was a clandestine temple priest who married couples, defying a ban from the emperor. He was caught, imprisoned and executed (by beheading) on 14 February, before being buried on Via Flaminia.

Alternatively, he was a bishop of Terni – and this small town in Umbria still counts him as a patron saint. There could have been two ancient Valentines. Either way, you can admire the relic skull of one of them in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, located near the Circus Maximus at the site of the Forum Boarium, Rome's ancient cattle market.

You’ll find the macabre relic, emblazoned with “San Valentino” sign across its forehead and crowned with flowers, on the side altar on the left side of the church.

The church itself is also rather fascinating and worth a visit not only because of the skull. It’s considered a jewel of early Medieval architecture and features a prominent Romanesque bell tower.

Inside, you’ll also find La Bocca della Verita (The Mouth of Truth), which is a massive marble disk with the face of the ancient god Oceanus. It was originally made to serve as a drain cover probably but in the Middle Ages a legend arose that if you put your hand inside its mouth and lie, the mouth will close and cut off your hand.

Saint Valentine’s relics across Europe

If you want to stand face-to-face with Saint Valentine, then Rome is your best bet. However, the saint of courtly love (but also beekeepers and epileptics apparently) can be called a truly European saint as you’ll find other purported relics linked to him scattered all over the Old Continent.

There’s also a vessel of Valentine's blood in Dublin’s Whitefriar Street Church, and assorted other relics in the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Malta, France and Scotland.

St. Anton’s Church in Madrid also holds remains from the saint, displayed for the public, which were gifted by the Pope to the Spanish king in the later 18th century.

Even the island of Lesbos, in Greece, claims to have remains of Saint Valentine at its Roman Catholic church in Mytilene.

All of this attests to the fact that Europeans feel comfortable knowing that there is a piece of romance nearby wherever they may live, even if it’s of a macabre nature.



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