The Origin of St. Valentine's Day: The Pagan Festival of Lupercalia

Valentine's Day is another one of those well known traditions thought to have Christian origins but actually grew from Pagan rituals. BibleStudy.org outlines the history of the conversion and we have some other detailed information on the Festival of Lupercalia where it all began.

THE ORIGINS OF LUPERCALIA

Here's more on the Festival of Luercalia which celebrated the rites of Purification and Fertility. Here's a little about the rites:

A certain element of the lupercalia was related to fertility. The Romans began as shepherds according to legend and Ovid suggests that the ancient origins of the festival lay in imported rites of Pan rededicated to the god Faunus in his role of god of the herds.

The rites were also linked to human fertility. Female bystanders were slapped with the goatskin throngs in order to ensure reproduction and it was common for those who wanted to become pregnant to put themselves in the way of the luperci.

This part of the rite dates to the time of Romulus. After the abduction of the Sabine women, the Romans wished to ensure that their marriages produced children. The goddess Juno was consulted in her sacred grove and instructed the citizens to instigate the rite of the goatskin straps.

If you are looking for even more of the legends behind St. Valentine and the road to the holiday, check out this article from Magickal Winds

As Christianity began to slowly and systematically dismantle the pagan pantheons, it frequently replaced the festivals of the pagan gods with more ecumenical celebrations. It was easier to convert the local population if they could continue to celebrate on the same days… they would just be instructed to celebrate different people and ideologies.

Lupercalia, with its lover lottery, had no place in the new Christian order. In the year 496 AD, Pope Gelasius did away with the festival of Lupercalia, citing that it was pagan and immoral. He chose Valentine as the patron saint of lovers, who would be honored at the new festival on the fourteenth of every February. The church decided to come up with its own lottery and so the feast of St. Valentine featured a lottery of Saints. One would pull the name of a saint out of a box, and for the following year, study and attempt to emulate that saint.

Confusion surrounds St Valentine’s exact identity. At least three Saint Valentines are mentioned in the early martyrologies under the date of February 14th. One is described as a priest in Rome, another as a Bishop of Interamna, now Terni in Italy, and the other lived and died in Africa.

Image from Koshyk on Flickr