THE CHURCH of St John the Baptist in Fleet Street, Coventry, will present its famous Relic of St Valentine this Saturday from 10am to 1pm and Sunday between 11.15am and 1pm.
The church is renowned for being a medieval gem with a past shrouded in mystery, and how a shard of bone believed to be from St Valentine’s finger displayed in a reliquary, ended up at St John’s is typical of its dramatic history.
The body of a St Valentine was found in a catacomb in Rome in the 1830s, and the tiny basilica of Santa’s Maris in Cosmedin in Rome now houses his skull.
In 1838 the Roman Curia ordered the sending out of various body parts in packages to Roman churches all over the world.
At that time Coventry did not have a Roman Catholic church and St John’s appeared to be an active church, but within the strict discipline of the Church of England.
Mike Polanyk, visitor liaison and communications officer, said: “Sadly existing records during the 19th century are scant – they were either burnt in a fire in 1861 or lost in the Great Flood of 1900.
“We do know the 1906 renovation and subsequent additions to the fabric of St John’s reflected the influence of the Oxford movement and a ‘high church’ worship under rector Fr Robinson at the church – both before and during the First World War, so the relic could have 0been transferred to the church then.
“When the War Memorial Window was being constructed in 1921, we know of an instruction that says ‘ the window is in keeping with the sacred artefacts on display there….” but it doesn’t say what.”
He added there was no firm mention of the relic in the church records until the 1930s when acclaimed architect Sir Ninian Comper redesigned the south-facing Saint John’s Chapel which was given a striking and characteristic reredos with a central crucifixion group by Comper.
“He also gave the chapel an Oxford movement feel as well as a fetching tabernacle for the relic, which gained the admiration of Sir John Betjeman.
“Comper wanted a suitable resting place for the artefact, being impressed by the wax seal affixed to it with a stamp of authenticity.
“I find it interesting the relic and tabernacle survived the first Blitz in 1940, despite the damage to the rest of the chapel.”