Dear St Valentine . . .
At the Dublin church where relics of St Valentine are kept, people write messages to the saint about situations you won’t find on a greetings card
For me and the boy who’s bringing me joy: lighting a candle at the shrine of St Valentine in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. Photograph: John Cogill/Bloomberg via Getty
At the church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, on Whitefriar Street in Dublin, St Valentine is busy all year. Here, where relics of the saint are kept, are messages that visitors have written in simple A4 notebooks on an altar in a side chapel.
His workload does not consist only of the problems of young love, although those prayers are here: “Please pray that it works out for me and the boy who’s bringing me joy – Thank you.”
The prayers seem timeless and modern at the same time. Molly Bloom’s daughters are here: “ Dear Valentine May I find a nice man to settle down with and marry tall dark handsome be a nice man really wish Sean would ring or text miss him may I find a nice man.”
And: “Dear St Valentine Please let things work out with me & that beautiful sly [shy?] man, please let us bring each other joy, Thank-you.” Which has to be one of the best prayers ever.
Some of the most romantic messages concern enduring love: “Thanks for the Happyiness of my wife. Thanks for the love and support. Please look after us all.”
They are punctuated with hearts and kisses as people write their prayers to the saint, whose bones arrived in Dublin from Rome in the 1830s, after a Carmelite priest on a visit to the Vatican impressed Pope Gregory XVI with his preaching.
Dubliners have maintained a strong devotion to St Valentine, and write to him in intimate terms. “Thank you for guiding me & letting things happen like this, I so appreciate [it] and I will never stop thanking you.” This message looks like it comes from a young person, ending as it does with a doodle of a happy face, and a heart.
The messages deal with all kinds of love: “Please keep my nieces and nephews safe, especially in their cars.” And: “Please St Valentine, I know you have a lot to get through. Please look after my sister who is very ill. Thanking you.”
Or: “St Valentine please help my lovely daughter to meet someone nice. Thanks very much.”
St Valentine is asked to help with a lot of situations that are common to us all but that the greeting-card industry hasn’t got around to dealing with yet. For example: “St Valentine can you pray for me and My Husband that we stop fihting and give in out to one a nuther.”
And: “Dear Saint Valentine, Help my wife and I to resolve our differences. The silence and arguments are too much, for our daughters sake at least, let our parting be amicable. Thank you.”
Some messages take up a whole page; others are very brief. This one is written in block capitals: “WHERE ARE YOU? I MISS YOU. PLEASE COME BACK TO ME. XX”
Another, from a man, says simply: “Let me be loved.” And another asks: “God where are you?”
Some prayers have the freshness of a text, as if the person dashed into the church between errands. “ J.L. i love you. be safe on the journey xxxx”
“Dear St Valentine Please help me to sleep. Amen.”
And, directly under that prayer: “ Dear St Valentine, Please help me in my Old Age to keep going – Anne”.
“Valentine, Please watch over us and our little baby inside until April watch and pray for us all. Thank you xxx”
St Valentine must have learned a long time ago that romantics can be pretty specific: “Let me meet a cool Dublin guy who loves Jesus & me & music Thank you I love you xxxxxxx.”
Like many others, the writer of this prayer returns several times to St Valentine, and she is thinking big. Soon she is praying that “our holy marriage may be blessed with God- fearing, healthy and brilliant children”.
St Valentine is often asked for his help with long-term projects and complicated situations. And he receives updates from some of his supplicants: “Dear St Val Thanks for your help so far. It’s not gone unappreciated. You’ve been amazing. Please continue to do so. Thanks for keeping PQ in the country – now please keep helping us through this! I can’t wait to be Mrs PQ - please please please Please also bless all the couples having tough times and give them the strength they need. Thank you Thank you Thank you x.”
Sometimes the updates submitted are not about ideal outcomes: “Dear St Valentine Thank you for listening last time. I am happier and more accepting of my husband leaving. Thank you for bringing good friends into my life. Pay no attention to Tom but make him happy! Rosemary.”
There are messages here in Spanish – “Por Favor Saint Valentine,” – in Oriental languages and in Welsh. If you’re an emigrant you need to discover love where you live: “Dear Saint Valentine, I need find a good looking girl in dublin. From my place she speaks same language. Will you help me pls. Thanks for your blessing.”
Whatever language they are in, the men’s prayers are shorter and very much to the point. “SAINT VALENTINE PLEASE MAY I MEET ANNABELLE AGAIN. PAUL. AND MAY THINGS GO WELL BETWEEN US.”
No one’s messages are clearer or more intimate than Jon’s. “Val, we are nearly there, Jon,” reads the first one. This is followed by “Val, some days are better than others, Jon.” Then, a few messages later: “Val, a nice happy lady, Jon.” Jon and St Valentine could be chatting at a bar: “Val, from Russia with love? Jon.”
Of course there are prayers dealing with the frustrations of life. One prayer starts: “Please Saint Valentine, well below average relatives, below average relatives, mediocre relatives, people in general . . .”
There are prayers that are not romantic, and demonstrate the most selfless love. “For my best friend to meet a man worthy of her”, reads one.
And there are prayers of real contentment: “Dear Saint Valentine Thank you for the wife I have & for wisdom & clarity in my life. In Jesus name, Amen.”
There are prayers here about annulment letters, prayers for teenage nieces who are pregnant, and for a whole range of love problems. “St Valentine, Please pray for my mam & dad. I am emigrating with their only grandchild and hope through your prayers that they will not be too sad. ’
It is good to see that St Valentine has survived serial monogamy and the international spread of the American dream: “St Valentine – thank you for giving me a 3rd chance @ love. Help me to be the best that I can be.”
So a mother writes that her son might find love in the country he has emigrated to. He is a lovely, gentle boy, she says. She cannot visit him, she tells St Valentine, because she is short of money. But her request for a suitable match does not stop at her son: “Maybe while you are at it could you please bring that someone special into my life too. Someone available, honest, solvent, kind, sense of humour & loving. Thank you so very much. I look forward to hearing from you.”
All names and initials have been changed