The Iglesia de San Antón was closed until the organization Mensajeros de la Paz (Messengers of Peace) took control of the parish in 2015. Since then, the church has been running regular services and events, while also catering to the needs of the homeless. The church even gives blessing to pets and their owners at the beginning of the year. However, it may be what’s inside the church, encased in glass, that is its greatest treasure. In the display case are what are believed to be the remains of the legendary Saint Valentine of Rome.
The life of Saint Valentine is shrouded in mystery, as there were several figures with the same name throughout history. On ancient Roman Catholic rosters of saints, there are around a dozen or so Saints Valentine. The one who has his namesake attached to Valentine’s Day is commonly referred to as Saint Valentine of Rome. While much of his life is difficult to verify, it’s largely believed he was martyred at the hands of Emperor Claudius II.
When Claudius noticed his military numbers dwindling, he banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. It was his belief that soldiers were becoming too attached to their families. Legend has it that one Valentine defied this rule and continued to wed young couples. He was eventually discovered and jailed, then eventually clubbed and beheaded on February 14, 269. It is said it that he signed a farewell note with the phrase, “Your Valentine.” However, martyrologies show that three other Saint Valentines were also martyred on that date, adding more confusion to the question of Saint Valentine’s identity.
It has long been thought that some of his remains were deposited at the Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome, while the rest were sent to St. Antón in the late 1700s as a gift from King Carlos IV. However, several churches have claimed to house the remains of St. Valentine, including one in Dublin, Ireland. It has created a bit of controversy as to who houses the true remains—a question that may never be answered.
Know Before You Go
The nearest tube station is Chueca (Line 5). The church is open day and night, and admission is free (however, because of the humanitarian role of this organization, donations are welcomed).