Valentines day, a time for love, friendship, chocolate, and ancient Rome… And I’m not talking about Cupid. It is said that Valentines originated from a Roman fertility festival until it was Christianized by the Catholic church. So let’s travel back in time and attend Lupercalia.
Lupercalia was an ancient Roman fertility festival celebrated in possibly the 6th century B.C.. Although not much is known about it, it is said that it was celebrated on February 15. It’s name comes from Lupus or wolf because it is thought to have honored the she-wolf that nursed Remus and Remolus who were the legendary founders of Rome. It is also a fertility festival so it could also be connected to the God, Faunus of fertility. Nobody knows for sure why the Romans had this festival but most clues point to honoring the she-wolf.
The festival begins with some good old animal sacrifice. The priests sacrificed a goat and a dog. Then they would rub the blood on their forehead and wipe it off with milk while laughing. Then they would have a feast before cutting parts of the sacrificed animals into whips for the men to use on the women. Next, they would all run naked as the men whipped the women as they believed being whipped with the animal parts promoted fertility and easy birth. It is also believed that at some point in the festival men would draw the name of a woman out of a jar and be coupled with her for the night and sometimes these couples would stay together or even marry.
What we know as modern day valentines was created when pope Gelasius I Christianized Lupercalia by making it a holiday to honor St. Valentine. To this day there are remnants of its bloody origins. The color red could be associated with the blood sacrifice and the color white could symbolize the milk, new life, and fertility. To this day nobody really knows if Lupercalia preceded Valentines or what it was really for.
I was first introduced to Lupercalia while watching “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” back in 2020 and I have always wanted to research it. While the show has some truth to how it depicts the festival it does embellish it and adds a sexual element. They do the matching which is like a cross between a maypole dance and musical chairs. Basically they dance until the music stops and whatever warlock the witches are closest to are their match for the night. Then they go into the woods and do the blood/milk ritual and lay out under the moon. Then the witches chase the warlocks through the woods dressed as wolves and when they catch their warlock I’m sure you can imagine what they do next. If I was to celebrate Lupercalia I would do it more like Sabrina than the Romans because they made it more beautiful and romantic than savage. Would you ever recognize Lupercalia? Or would you rather just stick to Valentine’s day?
One thought on “When in Rome”
Very interesting and well written. Learned something new about history. I will never look at Valentines Day the same way lol