By taking over some of the features of the Pagan gods and goddesses, St. Valentine became the patron saint of lovers. "The crocus, which flowers about [FEB-14]...is St. Valentine’s Flower." Pope Gregory XVI gave the remains of one of the St. Valentines to the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin Ireland. 12
Valentine's Day and its traditions originated in two separate Roman feasts: Lupercalia and the feast day of Juno Februata.
St. Valentine's Day can be traced back to Lupercalia, the Roman "festival of sexual license." This purification and fertility festival that seems to have been uniquely Roman. "...there is no other Indo-European equivalent in Vedic, Scandinavian, Irish, or Indo-Iranian traditions." Its origin has been lost to us, although it might have been associated with protection from wolves (lupus in Latin). Even the Pagan Romans in the 1st century BCE had forgotten its source. 2
A group of male Pagan priests, called Luperci, had only a single function: to conduct the Lupercalia festival annually on FEB-15. Cicero described them as: "A certain wild association of Lupercalian brothers, both plainly pastoral and savage, whose rustic alliance was formed before civilization and laws..." (Cael. 26) The celebration was held in the Lupercal cave on the Palantine Hill in Rome. Here, it was beleived, Romulus and Remus had been sheltered and fed by a she-wolf before they founded Rome. Two naked young priests, assisted by Vestal Virgins, would sacrifice a dog and a goat. The dog was probably a substitue for a wolf. (Some sources say that more than one goat was sacrificed. 4) Blood from the animals was spread on the two priests' foreheads and wiped off with some wool dipped in milk. The priests then clothed themselves with loincloths made from the skin of the goat. They ran about the city, scourging women with februa (Latin for "means of purification"). These were strips of skin taken from the sacrificed goat. The Romans believed that this flogging would purify them, and assure their future fertility and easy childbirth. 2 Feasts and parties were later celebrated throughout the city. 5
The month of February was sacred to "Juno Februata, the Goddess of the 'fever' (febris in Latin) of love" in ancient Pagan Rome. 1 She was also the goddess of women and of marriage. FEB-14 was her festival day. At that time, a box was provided from which single men could draw a "billet" -- a small piece of paper on which a woman's name was written. The couple would then form a temporary liaison for the erotic games to follow. They would remain partners for the following 12 months. Sometimes marriages resulted from this practice.
The church was opposed to this display of open eroticism and sensuality. They tried various ways of changing the festival. One method was to replace the women's names with those of saints and short sermons. The young women and men were expected to emulate the life of the saint whose name was on the billet that they had drawn. However, it was soon apparent that the public preferred the old ways. "By the fourteenth century they reverted back to the use of girl's names. In the sixteenth century they once again tried to have saintly valentines but it was as unsuccessful as the first attempt." 7
In 494 CE, Pope Gelasius 1 renamed a cleaned-up festival the "Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary." 3 The date was later changed to FEB-2. It is now called the Presentation of the Lord. This recognizes the time when Mary was purified in the Jewish temple after having given birth to Jesus.
St. Valentine's day was set as FEB-14, also by Pope Gelasius 1 in 494 CE.
"One historian notes that there is no link between the Roman festivals and Valentine's Day, and says that before Chaucer's time, there wasn't any link between the day of St. Valentine and courting - but after him, the link becomes widespread...After the time of Chaucer, the tradition of exchanging love letters, gifts, and cards became established.
The custom of sending love letters on this day appeared in the 14th and 15th century in both France and England. 6 A common European belief was that birds choose their mates on FEB-14; this added to the association of love with Valentine's Day. The exchanging of hand-made Valentine's cards became commonplace by the 17th century. Commercial cards were introduced during the 18th century.
"The feast was finally dropped from the 1969 Roman Church Calendar." 10 Today, Valentine's day is second only to Christmas in the number of cards exchanged in the U.S.
Cupid in Roman mythology was the same god as Amor or Eros in ancient Greece. He was a minor god, the son of Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. "Eros seems to have been responsible for impregnating a number of goddesses and mortals. The ancient Greeks believed Eros was the force 'love,' a force they believe was behind all creation." 8 He is portrayed today as a cute, chubby, cherub with bow and arrow, ready to shoot people and infect them with pangs of love. He is often associated with Valentine's Day.
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