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The Roman festival Lupercalia is thought to be the origins of Valentine’s Day, where men sacrificed goats and made whips from their skins, while women would line up to receive lashes as part of a fertility ritual

Marija Georgievska

The ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia was celebrated every year from 13th to 15th February, in honor of Lupercus, the god of fertility. The ceremony was held in the Lupercal, the place where Romulus and Remus were said to have been nurtured by the she-wolf.

The origins of the festival are obscure, some believe that there is a connection with the Greek festival, Arcadian Lykaia, and others associated it with the god Faunus because of the fertility rite.

Lupercalia most likely derives from the word ‘lupus’ which means wolf, (Bronze Roman Wolf Head 1-100 CE). Photo Credit

Lupercalia most likely derives from the word ‘lupus’ which means wolf, (Bronze Roman Wolf Head 1-100 CE). Photo Credit

The Lupercalia festival is also connected with Valentine’s Day because they were both held in February, however, only a date is not enough to connect them. There are a lot of associations and connections around Valentine’s day and its origins, and many historians say that this romantic festival has a muddled history. Some researchers claim, and some reject the claim, that the modern customs of Valentine’s Day originate from the customs of Lupercalia but there is no proof of that.

It is frequently said that Pope Gelasius replaced Lupercalia with the “Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary” and he instituted Valentine’s Day in its place. There is no written record for Valentine’s Day but there is a letter from the Pope about the replacement of the festivals in which he forbids Lupercalia because of its ceremonies.

The Lupercalian Festival in Rome (ca. 1578–1610), drawing by the circle of Adam Elsheimer.

The Lupercalian Festival in Rome (ca. 1578–1610), drawing by the circle of Adam Elsheimer.

The whole festival was directed by the Luperci, “brothers of the wolf” and began with a sacrifice of two male goats and a dog.

The ceremony of Lupercalia.

The ceremony of Lupercalia.

According to Wikipedia, two young Luperci were led to the altar, to be atoned on their foreheads with the sacrificial blood, after which they were expected to smile and laugh. Then, the Luperci would run around the Palatine City, dressed in the skins of the sacrificed goats, striking people that crowded near with februas (thongs), which were cut from the skins of the animals.

Many girls would line up when they were passing by to receive lashes from these whips because they believed that this was supposed to ease childbirth or ensure fertility.

Illustration for Lupercalia depicting the Luperci by the altar.

Illustration for Lupercalia depicting the Luperci by the altar.

Some historians believe that the festival is possibly connected with Valentine’s Day because of a story that involves the Christian priest, St. Valentine. It is said that he agreed to perform secret marriages as, at one point, the Roman emperor Claudius II forbid the people to get married.

Here is another story from us: Cupid, the god of love has wings because lovers are free to change their minds and “fly away” from each other

There are a lot of associations for Lupercalia and Valentine’s Day but the connection between them has to be more strongly established.