Friday, February 13, 2009
Lupercalia was an ancient Roman festival, held in mid-February, to honor the founding of Rome by the twins Romulus and Remus (Lupercalia refers to the she-wolf who supposedly suckled the abandoned brothers) and to celebrate the beginning of spring. There were certain fertility rites involved, including the pairing off of men and women by lottery (aren't you glad you get to choose your own sweetheart)? Near the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I replaced the pagan festival of Lupercalia with St. Valentine's Day.
Was there a real St. Valentine? There were several Christian marytrs named Valentine, and there is a pretty romantic legend about one priest named Valentine who was marytred about AD 270 by the emperor Claudius II Gothicus. According to the story, Valentine fell in love with his jailer's daughter, and smuggled out a letter to her signed, "From your Valentine." St. Valentine later became the patron saint of lovers. Many scholars now think that this legend isn't true, and that the actual saint has little to do with the hearts-and-flowers customs celebrated on this day. But hey, why throw cold water on tradition?
Happy Lupercalia, everyone!
(Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica Online and Daily Life Online-- our library's databases, naturally).