The Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church (officially the church is dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel) is one of the more important lesser known sights of Dublin - if only because the relics of none other than Saint Valentine can be found here. Yes, the patron saint of lovers actually resides in Dublin City. Or, to be more precise, rests in (comparative) peace here.
But there is more to the church than a gaudy statue, a gilded shrine, and the annual pilgrimage offered on February 14th, Saint Valentine's Day. Especially for the inner-city community it caters for, one of the less fortunate areas of Ireland's capital, served by the Carmelite friars.
Why you Should Visit Whitefriar Street Church
First of all, there naturally is the shrine of Saint Valentine, patron saint of lovers - the place to be on February 14th. And really a part of Dublin that many people have heard about, but not so many have actually seen. Nearby is the medieval statue of Our Lady of Dublin, which has had a tumultuous history and is one of the few remaining pieces of medieval Dublin. And last, but definitely not least, the richly decorated interior of the church reflected the re-emerging Catholic church in 19th century Ireland. In amazing splendour.
What You Should, However, Know ...
The Whitefriar Street Church is not situated in the most tourist-friendly area of Dublin, actually it is quite a dreary place on many days. Situated on a busy thoroughfare and with no "glamour" in the vicinity. Even the church exterior is more blue collar than anything else.
On the other hand, it is just a short walk from Dublin Castle or Saint Patrick's Cathedral, so you don't really have an excuse, have you?
What to Expect at Dublin's Whitefriar Street Church
In a nutshell:
- Church originally opened in 1827, but subsequently extended and realigned.
- Current entrance through monastery is not original.
- Splendid interior contrasts with bleak exterior.
But this can be easily missed ...
Walking towards the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church, one cannot help but notice changes - coming straight from Temple Bar and passing the George Street Arcade, most visitors will notice the shops getting smaller and decidedly less modern. Because you are now entering one of the less well-off areas of Dublin's Southside. Not a dangerous area, mind you, but not (yet) gentrified or dolled up for the tourist trade. It can be a bit grey at times, and on a rainy day you won't be seduced to linger longer than necessary.
The underlying working-class roots of the area are one of the main reasons why the Carmelites are here - their inner-city mission offering spiritual as well as practical support for the diverse community. Since the 19th century.
The interior of the Carmelite church (it was opened in 1827, on land once owned by the Cistercian order) is in total contrast to its bleak and grey exterior (the splendid portal excepted, of course) - actually it is a riot of colour in some places. The shrine of Saint Valentine being a good example, with a brightly painted statue and golden metalwork. The relics of Valentine, now one of the Irish saints by adoption, were given to the Carmelites by the Pope to boost Irish Catholicism. Instant credibility by importing a saint, not an unheard-of practice at all.
The historically most important piece to look out for, however, is Our Lady of Dublin - a 15th century wooden statue of the Virgin, originally from St. Mary's Abbey. Maybe even of German origin, but the attribution to Albrecht Dürer himself is very far-fetched.