Relics of St. Valentine in Roquemaure – Roquemaure, France - Atlas Obscura

Roquemaure, France

Relics of St. Valentine in Roquemaure

Celebrate the end of the Great French Wine Blight with a festival of kissing. 

In 1866 the vineyards of Roquemaure, France were descended upon by tiny, voracious insects. These phylloxera caused so much damage it became known as the Great French Wine Blight.

In an appeal for holy intervention, a local land owner - and presumed wine enthusiast - made a pilgrimage to Rome and allegedly returned in October 1868 with the saint’s relics in tow. It is unclear exactly how much or which parts of the saint were brought back, but the saint’s flower-bedecked skull is still on display in the eternal city.

Today the the arrival of the saint’s relics are celebrated in the town with a festival known as La Festo di Poutoun, or the “festival of lovers and kissers” on or near February 14, somewhat incongruously paired with locals decked out in fussy Victorian attire. During the festival the relics are taken out from the church where they usually reside and are carried through the streets.

Little is really known of the real man (or men) behind the St. Valentine 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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