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Friday, January 7, 2011

Lupercalia: St. Valentine's Days' Pagan Origin

St. Valentine’s Day, as with so many of the contemporary holidays which we, as Americans, celebrate today, has its’ beginnings in Paganism. In ancient Rome, a Pagan fertility and purification festival called Lupercalia, was celebrated. Lupercalia is uniquely Roman and was named after the fertility god Lupercus, protector of flocks against wolves. In fact, he was often identified with the gods Pan and Faunus.

Lupercalia was an important festival as records indicate that Mark Antony was Master of the Luperci College of Priests. In the year 44BC, he chose the Lupercalia festival as the proper time to offer the crown to Julius Caesar. Since February occurred later on the ancient calendar than it does today, Lupercalia was held in the spring. Each year on February 15, the Luperci priests gathered on Palatine Hill at the cave of Lupercal. Young men wore their loincloths and led the priests around the pomerium, the sacred boundary of the ancient city, and around the base of the hills of Rome.


Long after Palatine became the center of the powerful city, state and empire of Rome, the Lupercalia festival lived on. Roman armies took the Lupercalia customs with them as they invaded France and Britain. One of these customs was a lottery where the names of available maidens were placed in a box and then drawn by the young men. Each man accepted the girl whose name he drew as his love for the duration of the festival, which lasted from February 13th to the 15th, sometimes longer.


Somewhere around 197AD, Christianity began to slowly do away with the Pagan pantheons. It frequently replaced the festivals of the Pagan gods with its’ own modern celebrations to fit the life and teachings of Christ. Lupercalia, with its’ lover lottery, had no place in the new order. In the year 496AD, Pope Gelasius did away with the festival of Lupercalia, citing it as Pagan and immoral. He chose Valentine as the Patron Saint of lovers who would be honored at the new festival on February 14th.

Circa 289AD, a Christian named Valentine of Rome was martyred under the Emperor Claudius. Valentine was a bishop in the city who was arrested for giving aid to prisoners. While in prison, he was said to have converted his jailer by healing the man’s blind daughters’ sight. He then fell in love with her and from his death row cell, he wrote her a note signed, “From Your Valentine.”

It is believed that the very first valentine cards were the slips of paper bearing the names of maidens the early Romans first drew. Or , perhaps the note which Valentine passed to his sweetheart from his prison cell. By the 17th century; however, handmade cards became quite elaborate and pre-fabricated ones were only for the wealthy. In 1797, a British publisher issued, “The Young Man’s Valentine Writer,” which contained suggested sentimental literature for the young lover.

Today, the St. Valentine’s Day traditions continue with the giving of chocolates, jewelry and flowers. An estimated 1 billion St. Valentine’s Day cards are sent worldwide, making it the second most celebrated holiday after Christmas.

1 comment:

  1. I liked your blog about this. I am Wiccan and I love the original Pagan celebrations and I even enjoy watching how they have morphed over time into something else. I think it shows great adaptability for people; but I like that the old ways are still remembered. Blessed be ~

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