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One day that really is worth taking to heart

A FOLK musician giving a concert in Glasgow introduced his next song as being about "a Scotsman who loved his wife so much he almost told her." The audience laughed of course, knowing that getting a Scot to express emotion outwith the discussion of football is indeed a challenge.

Typical perhaps is the Glasgow chap in the pub who told his mates: "I asked the wife what women really wanted and she said 'an attentive lover'. Or it might have been 'a tent of lovers' - I wasn't really listening."

The big challenge to Scotsmen's emotions this week is Valentine's Day on Friday, so in preparation I strolled across the Suspension Bridge in Glasgow's city centre, past the Sheriff Court, then the Mosque, and into the modest but architecturally appealing Catholic church, the Blessed John Duns Scotus, on Ballater Street, Gorbals. Look to the left in the entrance hall and behind a plate glass window you will see a 2ft-long wooden casket with polished brass fittings on which is stamped "Corpus St Valentini, Martyris" - the body of St Valentine, martyr. Paris and Rome might seem the more romantic of European cities but here in Glasgow are the relics of the Christian saint whose name is plastered over millions of pink and red cards this week, although the pictures are mainly of cartoonish teddy bears, balloons and hearts rather than Christian martyrs.

It's not a complete skeleton of course. In fact, it's not much more than a couple of knee bones, but they are genuine relics.

Well there may actually have been two St Valentines, but they were both martyrs, so definitely genuine-ish. So how did they end up in a city where a Glasgow kiss is just as likely to be a headbutt than a comforting pursing of the lips?

Well the relics, authenticated by Rome, had been in the care of a wealthy French Catholic family in the 19th century. As the family began to die out, one of the last survivors asked a leading French Catholic what they should do with the bones. He had heard that the Franciscan Order was building a church in Scotland, St Francis in Gorbals, then at the heart of a thriving Irish Catholic community, and suggested they go there. With church amalgamations they now rest in the newer Blessed John Duns Scotus.

Incidentally, John was a 13th-century philsopher from the Borders town of Duns whose complex writings on the meaning of God and life were later derided so that his followers, called Dunses, had their name used pejoratively as a generic term for idiots, with schoolchildren sent into corners wearing dunses' hats, but I digress.

The casket is there for anyone to gaze upon, and this week there will be flowers put around it in the run-up to the 14th. There is usually a saucer of Love Heart sweeties put out as well for peckish visitors. But there is not a great fuss made. The church's Tuesday night novenas to St Anthony get far more attention.

In the 1970s and 1980s, religious relics were generally regarded as a bit old fashioned, a tad embarrassing even to get excited about slithers of bone which may or may not have come from someone important. But they are coming back into fashion as a new generation of worshippers actually want to revive the older traditions of relics, incense, candles and gregorian chant. Just like opening up an old family photo album, they can remind you of your past and create a positive spiritual energy.

As Ronnie Convery, director of communications at the Archdiocese of Glasgow told me: "There has certainly been a renewed interest in relics in recent years, after a period when they were regarded as somewhat irrelevant in Anglo Saxon countries, though their popularity has always been great in Latin countries. The visiting relics of popular saints like Therese of Lisieux and John Bosco have drawn large crowds to cathedrals in Britain in the last couple of years.

"They respond to that very human need to be close to an admired figure, someone who is considered to be a powerful intercessor. They are not magic objects with miraculous powers. They are more like icons that help people to stop and reflect and pray."

So how do we get from a dead saint to boxes of chocolates? Seemingly it was Chaucer who wrote about birds mating on St Valentine's Day, February 14. These are the first stirrings of spring and there is much folklore about birds choosing their partners then for the coming summer. Human lovers followed suit and began exchanging bilets-doux on St Valentine's Day. Now it is a multi-million pound industry. And why not? It has been a long slog through the winter and what better than to spread a bit of love and pleasure when we are all fed up with the cold, wet, dark days.

Hopefully, though, we'll do better than the chap who confessed to his pals: "Aw naw. I mixed up the Valentine's cairds to ma wife and ma girlfriend. Now ma girlfriend thinks I love her, and ma wife thinks I want to make mad passionate love to her."

I was more touched by the reader who told me that he heard two women on the bus into Glasgow discussing the sudden death of a mutual friend's husband. Expressing their sorrow, one of them added: "And they'd only been married for three year - so she probably still loved him."

So I'm not one for giving advice on matters of the heart, but I would suggest that six carnations from the Esso garage on Friday is not going to cut it when you get home. Even praying to Valentine's knee caps in the Gorbals is not going to save you from that mistake.

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Weddings

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