February is derived from the Latin februare, “to purify”. The Lupercalia was an annual Roman festival, held on February 15th to honour Faunus, god of fertility and forests.
The religious ceremonies were directed by the Luperci, the “brothers of the wolf (lupus)”, priests of Faunus, dressed only in a goatskin. During Lupercalia, a dog and two male goats were sacrificed. Two patrician youths were anointed with their blood, which was wiped off with wool soaked in milk, after which they were expected to smile and laugh. The Luperci afterwards dressed themselves in the skins of the sacrificed goats, in imitation of Lupercus, and ran round the Palatine Hill with thongs cut from the skins in their hands. These were called Februa. Girls and young women would line up on their route to receive lashes from these whips. This was supposed to ensure fertility and ease the pains of childbirth.
This Roman celebration was carried out for hundreds of years, until Christians decided to replace it with their own celebration. Pope Gelasuis, in AD496, found the namesake from Valentine, a third century priest, nothing new there since Christians have pillaged all our celebrations!
The Romans were at war and had outlawed marriage in hopes that young men who didn’t have families would make better soldiers. Numerous early Christian martyrs were named Valentine., although emphasis is generally given to the life of Valentine of Rome, Valentine was a Bishop who was rumoured to be able to perform spiritual healing. His Roman jailer Asterius asked Valentine to cure his blind daughter, Julia. Valentine did heal Julia, then both she and her father converted to Christianity.
Before dying, Valentine wrote a note to the woman whom he loved and signed it ‘from your Valentine’. His death sentence was carried out on Feb. 14, AD270 and he is buried at the Church of Praxedes in Rome.This love story was just what the Pope was looking for. Valentine was Christian, a romantic, performed miracles, and a love letter was his final act before death.
Valentine was named a Patron Saint, and the Romans celebrated by offering women hand written greetings expressing their affections. Valentine’s Day spread with Christianity, and is now a worldwide celebration of love.
The tradition of giving roses came from a Roman legend of a woman named Rodanthe. She was pursued by many men who finally became so desperate that they broke down her doors. The Goddess Diana became so enraged by their actions that she turned Rodanthe into a flower and each of the men into a thorn.