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Roman origins of Valentine’s Day

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Roman priests striking passers-by with thongs made of the skins of sacrificial animals
Roman priests striking passers-by with thongs made of the skins of sacrificial animals. The illustration shows the Lupercalia festival. | Photo: LABROUSTE DEL., MARY EVANS PICTURE LIBRARY/ALAMAS

It is possible that the customs associated with the celebration of Valentine’s Day refer to the ancient Roman feast, called Lupercalia, celebrated on February 15 in honour of Faun or the ancient god of the shepherds Lupercus, who protected their herd from wolves.

The festival was celebrated in the Lupercal cave on the Palatine, where, according to belief, the legendary founders of Rome, the twins Romulus and Remus, were fed by a she-wolf. Afterwards, sacrifices of two goats and a dog were made, and the priests called Luperci, dressed only in the skin of a freshly killed goat circled the Palatine hill and struck passersby thongs (februa) from the skins of sacrificial animals. Especially willing to strike were women without children, who were supposed to guarantee fertility and others who encountered – the purification of the stain and blemish of the past year.

The name itself comes from Saint Valentine. Valentine was a doctor by profession, by a clergyman’s vocation. He lived in the third century CE during the reign of emperor Claudius II. The Emperor, at the instigation of his advisors, forbade young men from entering marriages between the ages of 18 and 37. He believed that the best soldiers were legionaries who had no families. This ban was broken by Bishop Valentine and he blessed the vows of young legionaries. He was thrown in jail for it, where he fell in love with his blind guardian’s daughter. The legend says that his fiancée regained her sight under the influence of this love. When the emperor learned about it, he ordered to kill Valentine. On the eve of the execution, Valentine wrote a letter to his beloved, who signed: “From Your Valentine.” The execution was carried out on February 14, 269 CE.

Roman Valentines day

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