Valentine’s day may have its origins in the Lupercalia, an ancient Roman, and possibly pre-Roman, pastoral festival.
The Lupercalia were celebrated on the ides of February, and subsumed the spring cleansing ritual of Februa, which gives the month of February its name.
By purifying the city and purging it of evil spirits, the Lupercalia brought health and fertility.
Priests sacrificed a goat and a dog to the god Lupercus, whose image, nude but for the girdle of a goatskin, stood in the Lupercal, the cave in which a she-wolf (lupa) suckled Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome.
Lupercus is associated with Faunus, the Greek god of the wild.
The origins of St Valentine (or Valentinus, meaning ‘strength’) are so obscure that, in 1969, the Catholic Church removed him from the General Roman (liturgical) Calendar.
There are at least three early Christian saints by the name of Valentinus.
One was a priest in Rome, the second was a bishop in Terni, and the third was martyred in Africa.
The flower-crowned skull of one of the first two Valentines can be venerated in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome.
In 496, Pope Gelasius I established St Valentine’s February 14th feast day, perhaps to replace or Christianize the rowdy Lupercalia.
St Valentine, usually represented with birds and roses, became the Patron Saint of courtly love, lovers, affianced couples, and happy marriages, and also beekeepers, epilepsy, fainting, and plague, among others.