Every February 14, across the United States and in other places around the world, candy, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. There hardly seems to be a young man or woman who is not keen to make the most of the day.
Which St. Valentine this early pope intended to honor remains a mystery: according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, there were at least three early Christian saints by that name. One was a priest in Rome, another a bishop in Terni, and of a third St. Valentine almost nothing is known except that he met his end in Africa. Rather astonishingly, all three Valentines were said to have been martyred on Feb. 14.
When you think of Valentine’s Day you probably think of flowers, chocolates, and notes sealed with a kiss—not whipping women with dead animals or martyrdom.
The festival, which celebrated the coming of spring, included fertility rites and the pairing off of women with men by lottery. At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I replaced Lupercalia with St. Valentine’s Day. It came to be celebrated as a day of romance from about the 14th century.
Historians aren’t 100% sure about the origins of Valentine’s Day, but many believe it all started as the pre-Roman empire ritual known as Lupercalia, which sounded like a real hoot. Every February 13 – 15, goats and dogs were sacrificed at an altar by the Luperci (or “brothers of the wolf”) as an offering. After that, folks were anointed in the blood of the animals, wiped clean with some wool soaked in milk (as one does), and feasted until they were full and drunk. Then came the best part: the Luperci took the skins of the sacrificial animals and ran around naked, smacking people with them.