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You Might Not Celebrate Valentine’s Day If You Knew Its Bloody Origins

Many will be celebrating February 14th by giving flowers and chocolates to their sweethearts, but this schmaltzy holiday has some sinister beginnings.

In fact, the real history of Valentine’s Day is that of a pagan cult festival revamped into a veneration of a decapitated saint.

Goat Hides and She-Wolves

Many scholars trace the true origins of Valentine’s Day to the ancient Roman celebration of Lupercalia, which took place as early as the 6th century BC.

Lupercalia was a pagan fertility festival held each year in Rome on the 15th of February. The festival was designed to venerate two key Roman mythological figures.

The first was the she-wolf that suckled the mythical twin brothers Romulus and Remus, who are said to have founded the city of Rome (long story). The second was Lupercus, a fertility god protecting flocks of sheep against wolves.

The Capitoline Wolf -- a statue in Rome dedicated to the she-wolf that nursed Romulus and Remus. (Image: Getty)

Festivities involved the sacrifice of goats and dogs.

After ritual sacrifice, Roman priests would take thin strips of goat hide, strip naked and whip local women with the dissected pelts.

The whole festival was sexually charged. Wine flowed freely and men would randomly pluck a woman’s name from jar to be coupled with for the night, like an antiquated key swap party.

Eventually, the libidinous side of Lupercalia fell out of fashion with the rise of Christianity.

Roman priests during the feast of Lupercalia. Engraving by Jacques Grasset de Saint-Sauveur, 1825. (Image: Getty)

Everlasting Christian Love

The legend of Saint Valentine has many variations, the most popular of which is that Valentine was a man executed for his Christian faith on the 14th of February by Roman Emperor Claudius II in 270 AD.

Valentine was said to have been jailed for marrying Christian couples in love. Whilst in prison he refused to reject his faith, enraging Claudius and leading to his decapitation.

In reality, there were arguably two (or more) Valentines executed around this time that are likely to have contributed to the legend.

St Valentine, as the name suggests, is officially recognised by the Roman Catholic Church as a patron saint of lovers. The Saint also helps out with beekeeping, epilepsy, plague, fainting and travelling.

A skull, allegedly that of St Valentine, exists on display Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome. It was discovered in the 1800s along with a number of symbols associated with St Valentine.

Amongst the miracles attributed to St Valentine are the restoration of sight to a blind daughter of a sceptical judge. He is said to have later left her a note "from your Valentine".

In a 1886 engraving by Diodore Rahoult, Saint Valentine appears to be baptising a pagan in prison. He was later decapitated. (Image: Getty)
A skull, allegedly that of St Valentine, exists on display Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome.

The English Poet Bump

Rather than being an invention of the card and chocolate companies, the modern notion of Valentine’s Day is thought to have been created by medieval English poet Geoffrey Chaucer.

In his 14th century poem “Parliament of Foules”, Chaucer puts together the idea of a feast celebration in honour of St Valentine with the concept of courtly love -- a connection that historians believe didn’t exist until after the poem gained popularity.

The celebration day took off, gaining mention in Shakespeare plays such as Hamlet:

To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,

All in the morning betime,

And I a maid at your window,

To be your Valentine.

The romantic ideal of Valentine’s Day was also fuelled partly by a mistaken belief that birds began to mate after the 14th. Not only is this incorrect, but it appears tied to another myth that birds couple for life (they don’t).

Once the industrial revolution made mass production of novelty cards a reality, Valentine’s Day was solidified into the Western consciousness.

Love

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So when you canoodle with your loved one this Friday, remember to consider the wolf mothers, goat guts and detached heads which all contributed to making this holiday a reality.