We are very pleased today to introduce our dear Scottish friends, Margaret and Iain McEwan, as our first “Guests Bloggers” on Scotiana.
In this Letter from Scotland, Iain will guide us to the St-Valentine relics that remain in Glasgow, a very timely and interesting subject to read on the eve of worldwide celebration of St-Valentine’s day.
We could not have found a better guide so, without further ado, let us discover what Iain has to say about this mysterious link between St Valentine and Glasgow…
Hello Marie-Agnès, Jean-Claude and Janice
Bonjour from Scotland on this crisp, early Spring day! I know you were intrigued to hear that St. Valentine had a connection with Glasgow, and as his Feast Day approaches, I’ve tried to find out a little more about him.. ..
I had only vague memories of having heard that relics of the Saint had been kept somewhere for a while in a big cardboard box, so it’s been interesting to look into all this a little further…
St.Valentine doesn’t get a lot of publicity these days, except, of course, around the 14th February, so it was a surprise to find that the casket containing relics of the Saint has actually been on display now for 11 years, behind glass at the entrance to Blessed John Duns Scotus RC Church, in the Gorbals district of Glasgow..
Did I really say Gorbals?
Not the first area of Glasgow that one tends, even now, to associate with romantic love.. .. for the reputation of the old Gorbals was formidable.. .. slum housing, street gangs, ‘protection rackets’ and other crime. Now all of that has been swept away from the Gorbals, which is just over the Clyde and less than a kilometre south of the busy shops of Argyle Street (The best-known book on the old Gorbals – which undoubtedly added, perhaps unfairly, to its notoriety – is probably Alex McArthur and H Kingsley Long’s No Mean City.) The quotation is from St. Paul, Acts 21:39. Paul has caused a near-riot in the temple at Jerusalem, and addresses the commander of the Roman soldiers who have arrested him: “I am .. a Jew of Tarsus.. a citizen of no mean city. Suffer me to speak unto the people.”)
But to our tale! The handsome wood and brass casket containing the relics of the Saint was first displayed at a special service at Blessed John Duns Scotus on St. Valentine’s Day, 1999 – which happened to be a Sunday. (The Church, which actually dates from the 1960’s, is attached to a Franciscan Religious House – John Duns Scotus, influential theologian and philosopher, was an early Franciscan, who died in 1308.)
But how, and when, did the relics come to Glasgow? This was in 1868, when a wealthy French family, anxious to secure their future, and having heard that a new Franciscan friary was being constructed in Glasgow, entrusted the relics to the Church authorities – together, we’re told , with documentary evidence of their authenticity.
So the relics came first to St. Francis’ Church in Cumberland Street, where for over 100 years they remained in a side aisle.. .. before eventually being placed in Blessed John Duns Scotus, just ‘around the corner’ at 270 Ballater Street, where, of course, they can be seen today.
It must have been during the course of this removal that the relics, according to one newspaper, ‘lay for six years in a cardboard box, gathering dust.’ The whole point of the ‘cardboard box’ was actually to keep the dust away from the wooden case inside that held the relics of the Saint. Dust is a fact of life, and a rich reward surely awaits the man who finally eliminates it!
It’s just a pity that there’s so much confusion over the true identity of St. Valentine – there seem to have been two Valentines, possibly three! I’m no expert, but it seems to me to be a lovely idea to have someone keeping a kindly eye on those in love.. .. love hurts, it’s an anxious time! The most likely candidate to be Patron Saint of romantic love seems to be the Northern Italian bishop, beheaded on the order of Emperor Claudius around 270AD. A very long time ago…
Exploiting its link with St. Valentine, Glasgow launched an advertising campaign in 2005, promoting itself as the ‘City of Love’.. .. but Paris surely has a head-start in this race, n’est-ce pas?
Coming right up to date, prayers are now said at Blessed John Duns Scotus ‘for those in love and out of it’.. .. while ‘those experiencing difficulties through separation or breakdown’ are also remembered.
Which is nice!
Before ending, may I just say a word about the Reliquary itself in Glasgow?
Its design seems to have been inspired by that of the famous Monymusk Reliquary, one of Scotland’s greatest treasures. Taking its name from the Religious House in NE Scotland where for centuries it was kept, the Monymusk Reliquary is believed to have been made by the monks of Iona, to hold relics of St. Columba.
Carved from a single block of wood, it is richly decorated with plates of embossed silver and bronze.. .. and in 1211 came into the care of the Abbot of Arbroath. A later Abbot, known to have been present at Bannockburn, almost certainly used the Reliquary to bless the Scottish army before the battle. Stirring times!
The Monymusk Reliquary is considered the most valuable exhibit of the new Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.
Small enough to be carried on a strap around the neck, the Reliquary is depicted on the reverse of Clydesdale Bank £20 notes..