Saint Valentine’s Day
Patron Saints are saints that are considered protectors. St. Valentine is listed as the Protector of Lovers.1
According to the Catholic Encyclopaedia:
At least three different Saint Valentines, all of them martyrs, are mentioned in the early martyrologies under date of 14 February. One is described as a priest at Rome, another as Bishop of Interamna (modern Terni), and these two seem both to have suffered in the second half of the third century and to have been buried on the Flaminian Way, but at different distances from the city. In William of Malmesbury’s time what was known to the ancients as the Flaminian Gate of Rome and is now the Porta del Popolo, was called the Gate of St. Valentine. The name seems to have been taken from a small church dedicated to the saint which was in the immediate neighborhood. Of both these St. Valentines some sort of Acta are preserved but they are of relatively late date and of no historical value. Of the third Saint Valentine, who suffered in Africa with a number of companions, nothing further is known.2
So it is impossible to say for certain which of these three Valentines is the ACTUAL patron Saint of lovers. So how did this particular date become associated with lovers?
It seems quite probable that this association stems from the Middle Ages:
The popular customs associated with Saint Valentine’s Day undoubtedly had their origin in a conventional belief generally received in England and France during the Middle Ages, that on 14 February, i.e. half way through the second month of the year, the birds began to pair. Thus in Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules we read:
For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.
For this reason the day was looked upon as specially consecrated to lovers and as a proper occasion for writing love letters and sending lovers’ tokens. Both the French and English literatures of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries contain allusions to the practice.3
In ancient Rome the feast of Lupercalia was celebrated between 13th-15th February. Lupercalia was the feast of Lupercus (God of Shepherds) who took the form of a wolf (Lupus in Latin). This feast also commemorated Lupa, the she-wolf that suckled the twins Romulus and Remus who, legend has it, founded the city of Rome, so this festival would have particular significance in the mind of all Roman citizens.
According to Wikipedia:
Plutarch described Lupercalia:
Lupercalia, of which many write that it was anciently celebrated by shepherds, and has also some connection with the Arcadian Lycaea. At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.4
Lupercalia continued to be celebrated right until the 5th century when Pope Gelasius I finally outlawed it.
Similarities between the Feast of Lupercalia and the traditions surrounding St. Valentine’s Day have not gone unnoticed, even amongst pagans. Dr. Leo Ruickbie (historian and sociologist of Magic, Witchcraft and Magic) states in an article entitled:
St Valentine’s Day or Ancient Pagan Sex Rite?
As an estimated one billion cards* are exchanged this St Valentine’s Day spare a thought for the ancient Pagan custom that the Catholic Church has tried to hide from you, for St Valentine’s Day is the Eve of Lupercalia, the Pagan Roman festival of fertility.5
Dr. Ruickbie goes on to explain how the tradition of sending anonymous cards with the request “Be my Valentine!” is:
remarkably similar to many magical formulae.6
Finally he makes a telling statement:
So, the next time you ask someone to be your Valentine, try not to forget that you are engaging in a millennia old fertility rite and, what is more, dabbling in a little magic to boot.7
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