At least 75% of Americans and many more celebrate February 14th as St. Valentine's Day. But when did it originate and just who was St. Valentine?
Valentine’s Day—not one of my favorites. I suppose the gross commercialism and the fact that many people feel that it is a mandated day to show public affection through the purchase of cards, candy, flowers and other gifts, is responsible for my feelings of distaste. But 75% of Americans and a whole lot of the rest of the Western World celebrate it every February 14th.
But when did it originate and just who was St. Valentine?
Twenty-four hundred years ago the Pagan wolf-god Lupercus was honored, on a day near February 14th, with the Feast of Lupercalia for his protection of the crops and livestock. As most “traditionally” Christian holidays are, St. Valentine’s Day originally was a Pagan celebration, a celebration of the elements of the Earth and the cycle of life-death-rebirth as symbolized in the growing of crops and the birthing of lambs and cattle.
After Constantine established Christianity as the dominate religion in the Roman Empire the Church set out to eliminate all things Pagan, even if it just took a change in name or how celebrations were conducted. One of the most objectionable parts of the Lupercalia celebration was the drawing of the names of young women by the young men. The girl whose name was chosen was to remain the sexual partner of the man for the year. In 496 CE Pope Gelasius I was finally able to abolish this practice by substituting the names of saints for the names of girls and replacing Lupercus, the Pagan deity, with a Christian saint. In this case it was St. Valentine.
And who was St. Valentine? In many instances when the Church replaced a Pagan deity with a saint no real person existed. The Church legend says that St. Valentine was beheaded in the 3rd century by Emperor Claudius II. His crime? The story is that Claudius ruled that all Roman soldiers must be single so that they could fight without thinking of their wives and family. Valentine supposedly continued to marry the soldiers in secret.
So this Valentine’s Day just remember when you are out buying candy and cards for your loved one—pause a moment to thank the wolf-god Lupercus and his followers who, around 400 BCE, gave a feast to him for his protection of the crops and baby lambs.
(Illustration courtesy of Witch Way Graphics)