Chełmno, Poland

Skull bits of St. Valentine in Chelmno

A silver reliquary holds what may or may not be parts of the martyr's skull

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Preserved in a small silver reliquary in a parish church in Chelmno, a bit of bone is revered as the skull of St. Valentine, patron saint of lovers (as well as bee keepers and epilepsy, among other things).

The relics have been in the possession of the church for "several hundred years" and are the focal point of the city's annual celebrations on February 14. The only problem is that his skull is inconveniently already on display in Rome.

The silver reliquary dates to around 1630, and was described in 1880 as follows: “...it is the saint’s head, or rather a small fragment of it. The relic is placed in an octagonal reliquary which is made of silver, is one foot high and weighs about three pounds. On top of it there is a round dome-shaped lid where the relic is kept and where it can be seen and kissed through the glass. The relic is the size of about two fingers.”

An altar devoted to the saint sits next to the main altar, separating the main nave from the south one, decorated with a painting of the martyr’s decapitation.

Little is really known of the real man (or men) behind the myth. What is known (more or less) is that at least two men by the name of Valentine (Valentinus) were known in Italy and died in the late 3rd century, and a third Valentine was located in North Africa around the same time. The two Italians were buried along Via Flaminia. As a saint, Valentine first gained real notoriety in 496 when Pope Gelasius I made February 14, originally part of the Roman festival of Lupercalia, a feast day dedicated to St. Valentine. The stories of the different men seem to have merged into one over time, with most of the mythology about Valentine being a patron of lovers, helping early Christian couples to marry in secret, only dating to the 14th century and the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer.

Today, there are no less than ten places claiming to house the relics, all around the world, including the Basilica of Santa Maria in Rome.

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    Chelmno parish church, Chełmno, Poland
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