To find the origins of our modern Valentines Day celebration we’ll go back to ancient Rome, to a festival of ritual purification during the second lunar period of the year. It was called Februalia.
In these bygone days this month was a time of sacrifice and purification to atone for the sins committed. Homes were swept, ritually cleansed and wheat spelt and salt were sprinkled throughout the house, to ward of evil spirits and bad omens.
Later Februalia was fused with a much more raucous and popular celebration of Lupercalia, a festival in honour of Lupercus the god of fertility and Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture. Also the she wolf Lupa who is believed to have suckled Rome’s mythical founders Romulus and Remus, was honored during this time, which occurred at the ides of February.
Members of the Luperci order of Roman priests would gather on the 13th day of the month in a sacred cave where Lupa was believed to have suckled the infants Romulus and Remus. Here the priests would sacrifice a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. The ritual is said to include two of the younger priests being led to the altar, laughing and a elder priest touching the point of a knife dipped in the sacrificial blood to the priests forehead and was wiped off with a wool cloth, soaked in milk. A feast would follow after which the Luperci members take the hides of the animals and cut them into strips that were then subsequently dipped in the sacrificial blood. Some references tell me that men and woman would strip naked, while the Luperci priests take these blood soaked hides into the fields and into the streets where married woman willingly let themselves be slapped, as it was believed that this would assure fertility and easy pregnancies and births. Slapping the strips in the fields and pasture assured healthy crop in the coming summer.
Another part of the celebration was a matchmaking lottery. Young men were encouraged to draw the name of a young woman out of a jar and ‘couple’ for the duration of the festival or longer, if it all worked out.
Mmm, must have been some party, I think.
Pondering this festival of fertility, the irrational methods they used, I chuckled when I realized how despite the absence of science, it was still probably a most effective ritual.
Tales of history disclose a story of Claudius II who spend much of his reign at war with the Gauls and Etruscans, for which he needed a a continues supply of young man, willing to give up their lives.
That was not happening as smoothly as hoped and Claudius believed this to be because the men did not want to leave their wives. You have to admit that Claudius II showed real insight in this matter. So the emperor needed to solve this dilemma, and declared all marriages invalid and forbid all other nuptials to take place for the duration of the war. Needless to say that the people pushed back and continued to tie the knot in secret. One of the officials who continued to help young couples unite in marriage was Bishop Valentine. He married many couples during these dangerous times and eventually Valentine was caught in the act of performing a matrimonial ceremony and was subsequently thrown in the dungeons.
It is said that the daughter of one of his jailers was one of the many young people who had been helped by the bishop and was able to visit him in jail. The story goes that she received notes and letters from him, signed simply as ‘your Valentine’, as we still do to this day.
Lupercalia at first survived the initial rise of Christianity but when Pope Gelasius came to power, he did not like the heathen rituals of the pagans, especially not the hyper sensual celebration of Lupercalia and he did everything he could to quell this holiday. After a long fight he was eventually able to outlaw the celebration and declared February 14th the day of St. Valentine, honoring the late Bishop’s compassion on the day he had died so many years ago.
Later during the end of the dark ages, this day once again became associated with love and fertility as in France and England Feb. 14th was referred to as the beginning of the bird’s mating season, which gave rise to the idea that Feb 14th should be a day of romance for all. And so is has been until modern times.
The oldest Valentines Day card still existing was penned in 1415 by Charles, duke of Orleans, send to his wife while being held in the Tower of London.
We continue to write love notes on this day as we also celebrate love with chocolate and flowers. Don’t forget your lover on this day, because we all need to hear from our Valentine once in a while.