A GUIDEPOST REPRINT: “St. Valentine: Love & Death,” by H. August Debelius, 18 February 1966

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Saint Valentine, Patron of Love and Lovers: disinterred from a Roman cemetery and brought to Spain?



by H. august Debelius

18 February 1966

 Guidepost cover, 18 February 1966


St Valentine, the man whose name has come to mean a love note, is buried—where else?—on the warm and romantic southern coast of Spain.

At least that is the claim of the librarian of the cathedral in the Spanish city of Almería, Juan Lopéz Martín. In a scholarly booklet published in that picturesque Mediterranean city in 1965, Lopéz Martín reproduced and quoted various ancient documents from the cathedral archives, claiming the body of the patron saint of lovers was disinterred from a Roman cemetery in 1779 and brought to Spain, where it was interred in the Almería cathedral.

Cathedral of Almeria, interior, where St Valentine is allegedly interred

Love And Spring. The saint, who died a martyr´s death in Rome in the third century A. D., reportedly converted his prison guard and the man´s family to Christianity, preaching love for his fellow men even while the threat of death hung over him. But scholars have not been able to find out for certain how he got associated with love between fellow men and women.

The most widely accepted theory is that the Roman celebration of the beginning of Spring, the return of the birds and the bees and the budding of flowers, corresponded with his feast day and was carried over into the Christian culture of Europe under his patronage.

But long before St. Valentine´s body came to the sunny shores of this country, Spain was the scene of one of the most passionate love affairs in history, which took place in the 13th century A. D., according to scholars in the city of Teruel, Spain.

While little solid fact is available to support the legend, the mummified bodies of a man and a woman purported to be the famous “lovers of Teruel” are on permanent display in glass caskets in the cathedral of the ancient city of Teruel, surmounted by bigger-than-life statues of the medieval sweethearts holding hands in death, a work of the well-known sculptor Juan de Avalos. Youthful hand-holding tourists visit the “Amantes de Teruel” the year round, inspired by their story of true love.

According to the legend, which dozens of Spanish poets have dramatized, a young man named Diego Juan Martínez and a fair damsel named Isabel de Segura fell in love, but the girl´s father disapproved of the match. So Diego went off to battle the infidels (at that time half of Spain was under Moorish rule) to prove his valor and show that he was worthy of Sr. Segura´s daughter, but he promised to return within two years. Beautiful Isabel swore she would wait for him.


The Lovers of Teruel carved in high relief at the “Escalinita de la Estacion” Teruel

Refused Kiss. But in the meantime, a wealthy suitor appeared on the scene, and Sr. Segura decided he knew what was best for his teen-aged daughter. Against her wishes he betrothed her to the wealthy suitor. Certain that her lover would keep his promise to come back, Isabel put off the wedding as long as she could. Finally, she could stall no longer and the wedding date was set.

It was the saddest day of her life when she donned her white veil and went to the church and in obedience to her father went through the ceremony. She no sooner got back to her house, however, than Diego appeared, back from the wars. Sad and pale, she told him the news. She assured him of her undying love, but refused to give him the kiss he asked for because she was now married to another. Diego collapsed and died of a broken heart in her home.

The next day Isabel, her wedding gown changed for a mourning dress, went to his funeral in the same church. She had not slept all night and her face was the color of ashes. It was more than she could stand. She broke away from her family and her husband and ran to the side of the lifeless body of her lover; her tears bathing his face, she gave him the kiss she had refused him the night before, then fell dead of grief herself.

The family realized too late that their love was greater than they could bear, and the two lovers of Teruel were buried in a single grave, united in death because they could not be united in life.


> Featured image painted by Bartholomäus Zeitbloom (1455-1515). Source: Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen. PD via Wikimedia Commons
> Cathedral of Almeria/T. meltzer, CC BY-SA4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
> Lovers of Teruel /Alfredo SÁNCHEZ GÁRZON, CC BY-SA4.0 via Wikipedia