The real story of Valentine’s Day

JillWellington / Pixabay

Although they are not directly related to the modern traditions of Valentine’s Day, the beginning of the celebration of love (in a way) in February goes back to the Romans. The Lupercalia Festival was a pagan festival of fertility and health, observed from February 13 to 15, which was celebrated at least as early as 44 BC. BC (the year of the murder of Julius Caesar). Some historians think that goes back even further, possibly with a different name.

Connected to the Roman god Lupercus (the equivalent of the Greek god Pan), the festival was originally intended for shepherds and the health and fertility of their sheep and cows. When he became more rooted in Roman culture, he celebrated Lupa (another possible reason), the wolf who healed the legendary founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. Religious offerings took place at the Palatine Hill cave, a place where Rome was thought to be founded.

The ceremonies were filled with animal sacrifices, goatskin and nudity. The priests sacrificed goats and young dogs, animals thought to have a “strong sexual instinct”. Then a feast would be held with a lot of wine. When everyone was fat and happy, the men got rid of their clothes, draped the goat skins of the previous sacrifice on their naked bodies and ran around the city hitting naked women.

It was also assumed that matches had occurred during the feast, just as people did at festivals in the Middle Ages. Whether the original feast had it or not, later, the young men would draw names of young women, matching themselves at random during the party. If the wedding was nice, a wedding could possibly be arranged. Otherwise, well, they broke up.

Over the years, the Lupercalia festival has been less celebrated by the upper class and the aristocratic and enjoyed almost exclusively by the working class. In fact, the rich would insult themselves by saying to attend the festival of Lupercalia.

In the fifth century, Pope Hilary tried to ban the festival, considered a pagan and non-Christian ritual. At the end of the fifth century (around 496 AD), Pope Gelasius I finally banned it. In a long letter addressed to all the Roman nobility who wanted the festival to continue, he declared: “If you affirm that this rite has a salutary force, celebrate it yourself in the ancestral way; run naked to make fun of the mockery.

Pope Gelasius also organized a much more Christian celebration and declared that it would be honored on February 14 – a holiday during which St. Valentine would be the patron saint.

Between the second and eighth centuries, Valentin’s name was rather common because he translated Latin as “strong or powerful”. Spread out in the Christian religion over the past two thousand years, a dozen valentines have been mentioned including a pope (in the 9th century, but was only pope for two months). It seems that Valentine’s Day to which Pope Gelasius dedicated a feast may have been composed of two or three different men. You see, he never said who he was trying to honor, and even the Catholic Church is uncertain about it.

One of the Valentines lived in the third century and was beheaded under the reign of Emperor Claudius, presumed by some because he had illegally married Christian couples. Claudius (like other emperors before him) thought that the soldiers fought better and were more faithful if they were single and that they did not have a wife to return home. Thus, he forbade soldiers to be married.

According to another story, a Valentine was killed in the Roman province of Africa because he would not give up being a Christian in the 4th century. Yet another was the bishop of Interamna (Italy) in the 3rd century; he was beheaded.

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