The Roman Feast of Lupercalia
The ancient pagan fertility celebration, which honored Juno, queen of the Roman gods and goddesses and goddess
of women and marriage, was held on February 14, the day before the feast of Lupercalia began (on February 15).
During festival time, women would write love letters, also known as billets, and leave them in a large urn.
The men of Rome would then draw a note from the urn and ardently pursue the woman who wrote the message they
Later, Valentine's Day was named after the Christian patron saint of love, St. Valentine, but derives it root
from the ancient pagan cultural traditions of the Roman Feast of Lupercalia.
For eight hundred years prior to the establishment of Valentine's Day, the Romans had practiced a pagan festival
in mid-February commemorating young men's rite of passage to the God Lupercus.
February 14th was a festival to honour Juno, the Queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses. Juno is the Goddess of
women and marriage. It is also the eve of an important Roman festival.
The following day Febuary 15th, began the Feast of Lupercalia.
Since the origin of the festival is so ancient, even scholars of the last century before Christ were uncertain.
The Feast of Lupercalia was celebrated as a spring festival. The calender of that time was different, with February
occuring in early spring time, later than it is today.
The lives of young Roman boys and girls were seperated strictly. On these occasions, one of the customs of the
time amidst a variety of pagan ceremonies, was name-drawing love lottery for young people.
On eve of the festival of Lupercalia the names of Roman maiden were written on slips and placed into jars. On this
evening each young man would draw a girl's name from the jar.
As chance directed the girl whose name was drawn was assigned to be his partner and sexual companion for the duration
of the festival.
The pairing of these young people lasted the remaining year and often they would fall in love and would later marry.
Valentine of legend, who lived in the third century A.D., was a priest in Rome and served at the temple at
the time when Christianity was a new religion during the reign of Claudius II.
According to legend he had special feelings for young people. Together with Bishop Marius he aided the Christian
marthyrs and secretly married couples in defiance of the Emperor's decree.
When Claudius found out about Valentine, he first tried to convert him to paganism, but Valentine instead
tried the reverse to convert Claudius.
Valentine was eventually arrested and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be flogged
to death with clubs and beheaded for defying Emperor Claudius.
He suffered martyrdom on the eve of the Roman Feast of Lupercalia February the 14th, 269 A.D.
Valentine's execution by flogging and beheading may have formed part of the entertainment even during the festival
at that time. Roman rulers often made a display of cruelty toward the Christians who were drawing people away from their older
Another (Roman Catholic) legend tells that Valentine was arrested for helping the Christians who were being
prosecuted by Claudius II.
During the days of his imprisonment, Valentine befriended and fell in love with the jailer's blind daughter.
His love for her and his great faith managed to miraculously restored her sight before his execution. In the
morning before he was taken to his death he wrote and left a farewell message for her and signed it "From Your Valentine."
This phrase has been used on his day ever since.
As Christianity gained political stature in Rome, by the fourth century
A.D. the church authority endeavoured to purge out the influence of paganism. Being unable to abolish some of the pagan festivals
that people loved, they assigned them Christian names.
The spring festival of Lupercalia was moved from February 15
to February 14th. Pope Gelasius ordered a slight change in the love lottery, where instead of the names of maidens, the lottery
box contain the names of saints.
Both men and women are allowed to draw from the box and the purpose
was to emulate the ways of the saints they drew for the rest of the year. Needless to say, many young Roman were not too happy
with the new change in rules for the festival.
As Lupercalia began in mid February in honour of the pagan god Lupercus, the Church looked for a suitable saint
of love to take his place.
They found appropriate choice in Valentine and in 496 A.D. Pope Gelasius in an effort to do away with the elements of paganism
in the festival set aside February 14th to honour Saint Valentine.
Thus, the Feast of Lupercalia became Saint Valentine's Day, and the ancient meaning of a celebration of mating was
attached to the saint's name.