How authentic is St Valentine relic housed in Prague church?

Around the world people are celebrating St Valentine's Day, the traditional day of lovers. But did you know that the Church of SS Peter and Paul in Prague's Vyšehrad may be home to a relic of the famous saint? Four years ago the Royal Collegiate Chapter of SS Peter and Paul uncovered several forgotten Baroque shrines in its depository; it was surprised to find one relic - a complete shoulder blade - had belonged to none other than the patron saint of lovers. Last year, the church held a mass in St Valentine's honour - displaying the relic - and this year it's doing the same.

But do the remains really belong to the saint? The answer you get perhaps depends on who you ask. Still, the church is confident it has the real thing. The director of the Royal Collegiate Chapter of SS Peter and Paul, Jan Kotous explains.

"We were surprised to rediscover the item in 2002 during a general inventory of items at the chapter house - restoration of four items revealed that one housed a relic belonging to St Valentine. In this case, we believe that the relic was brought to Vyšehrad by Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, one of many relics in his collection. During the Baroque renovation of the church in the 17th or 18th century, it was then housed in an individual shrine on one of the altars."

Jan Kotous readily admits the church could try and do DNA testing today and compare the relic with remains in Italy, where St Valentine is believed to have died in 269. That, however, would be difficult and time-consuming. Furthermore, they consider their documentation more than sufficient.

"We have a seal attesting to the relic's authenticity, authenticity as defined by Church law or practices. A seal on the item's history which we trust."

Relic belonging to St Valentine,  photo: Kristýna Maková
A number of churches in Europe are said to house holy relics of St Valentine, but his main bodily remains were exhumed in Rome in 1836 and donated by Pope Gregory XVI to the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin. Some may be sceptical about various items' authenticity but, as is often the case with saintly relics, it is not only a matter of proof but also a matter of faith. That, in the end, is at least partly what Saint Valentine's Day is about. As for the secular holiday? Jan Kotous says the core of the message there is the same.

"The commercial aspects of the holiday? I don't think they really matter. After all, if someone sends you chocolate or a card it's still to express their feelings. It's that expression that really matters."