Lupercalia was the original Valentine's Day celebrated in Rome, and happened at the same time of year in antiquity. Itself descended from older pagan rites celebrating fertility, Lupercalia combined celebrations of fertility with a remembrance of the she-wolf that suckled Romulus, the founder of the nation state.

During Lupercalia, young women hoping to become pregnant would arrange themselves at the top of the main road of the city of Rome. Crowds of citizens armed with freshly cut strips of wolf hide would line themselves on the sides of the street. The women would then race along the avenue as citizens whipped them with the bloody hide, hopefuly painting stripes of ichor across the women. The bloodier the young woman became, the more likely she would become pregnant by the next Lupercalia.

Christians had an extremely successful method of arranging their holy celebrations with already established Roman holidays. They celebrated the birth of Christ during the popular feast of Saturnalia, which celebrated the patron god of Rome. Early Christians took the martyrdom of St. Valentine and made a feast day that celebrated the marriage aspects of fertility during the older Lupercalia festival.

With the decline of the traditional Roman gods and the ascendancy of christianity in the Roman Empire, Lupercalia lost popularity compared to the more chaste celebration of Valentine's martyrdom.

Lu`per*ca"li*a (?), n. pl. [L. luperealis, fr. Lupercus the Lycean Pan, so called fr. lupus a wolf, because he kept off the wolves.] Rom. Antiq.

A feast of the Romans in honor of Lupercus, or Pan.

 

© Webster 1913.

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