For many people, the feast of St Valentine’s day is a celebration of love with messages sent through cards, flowers, gifts, a nice meal and even a short holiday.
For a village in the centre of Malta, however, it means much more than this! St Valentine’s is considered the second patron saint of Balzan, and the link between Valentine and this village is now almost 200 years old.
In Malta, the names, Valent or Valentina can often be found in Balzan, especially among the elderly – proof of the link and devotion of this community towards St Valentine’s. There is even a road named after this saint who is associated with romance and lovers.
The link goes back to January 1820 when the remains of the saint were brought back from Rome and given to the parish of Canon Dun Lawrenz Grech Delicata who was from Balzan. Carmel Bezzina, who has carried out extensive research on his native village, said that St Valentine is considered the second patron saint after Our Lady of the Annunciation. In church, there is what is called a ‘corp sant’.
Mr Bezzina said, “it is in a reclining position as can be found in many churches, wearing beautiful expensive clothing – silk, velvet, lace and so on. Then according to the bones which were brought back from Rome, the clothing was placed on the parts of the body accordingly – for example here we have part of the rib cage, here a part of the shin – the foot. This was placed inside a glass case so that it can be seen and then we built the statue around it”.
The feast of St Valentine’s is based on his martyrdom at a time of Christian persecution, towards the year 270, during the reign of Emperor Claudius II. Among the legends surrounding this saint, there is the one in which he used to secretly marry Christian couples and used to help those persecuted by the same Emperor.
In the past, the people of Balzan celebrated St Valentine’s in a big way. Mr Bezzina describes how in Balzan, St Valentine’s was celebrated on Sunday before the titular feast of the Annunciation. He recalls that around 50 years ago, the Church used to be decorated for this feast and on that day a procession used to be held with the participation of the Brotherhoods.
“The St Gabriel band used to take part which used to hold a programme on the Church parvis, there used to be fireworks, and Catherine wheels as well as a fair to bring people together for a day of fun while raising money to pay for the expenses of the feast. Gradually, the interest in this feast died down as happened with similar feasts in other parishes.”
Today the parish of Balzan commemorates St Valentine’s with a Mass on 14 February.
St Valentine’s ‘corp sant’ is now registered as a project which should be ready for the 200th anniversary since the saint was brought to Balzan, which will be celebrated next year.