The Finger Returns

The Church of St John the Baptist, Fleet St, Coventry will be presenting their famous relic of St Valentine on Saturday February 12 from 10am until 1pm and Sunday February 13 from 11.15am until 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.

Sadly existing records of our Church made during the nineteenth century are scant- they were either burnt in a fire in 1861 or lost in the Great Flood of 1900!

We do know that the 1906 renovation and subsequent additions to the fabric of St Johns 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, so the relic could been 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 doesn’t say what.
There is no firm mention of the relic in church records until the thirties, when the acclaimed architect, Sir Ninian Comper, redesigned Saint John’s Chapel.

This south facing Chapel 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.

Interesting that the relic and tabernacle survived the First Blitz in 1940, despite the damage to the rest of the Chapel!

More information from

Mike Polanyk,
Visitor Liaison and Communications Officer.
St John the Baptist,
Fleet St

07757 942420

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