Valentine’s day between love and legend

Valentine’s day

Valentine's Day is a Christian celebration since 496 AD, when it was established by Pope Gelasius I, but the fact that this day has become synonymous for lovers’ celebration, in which we exchange loving cards in a heart shape (the “valentines”) and small gifts, often delicious, should go back about 800 years later, when the circle of the English writer and poet Geoffrey Chaucer introduced the tradition of courtly love.

A tradition that the Benedictine monks, foster the basilica of San Velentino in Terni, helped to spread throughout Europe and especially in England and France, but well before the Christian tradition the days from 13 to 15 February was already a pagan festival, that of “Lupercalia”. The most detailed description of this festival comes from Plutarch, who speaks of them as purification rites celebrated in the cave called Lupercale, on the Palatine Hill in Rome, where, according to legend, the twins Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were nursed by a she-wolf.

Basilica di San Valentino
Basilica di San Valentino in Terni, Italy

To be true, also this celebration would have had more ancient origins, resulting from an Arcadian ritual in which the inhabitants of Pallanzio (i.e. the Palatine Hill) compete in a foot race with no clothes and with their private parts covered by the skins of animals sacrificed in honor of the god Pan Liceo, ie Faun, son of Hermes and Persephone, protector of the countryside, forests and pastures and the only god of which the myth tells of the death. Some researchers, however, believe that this feast was connected to fertility rites.

Valentine’s day

These rituals foresaw the sacrificed animal skins were cut into strips so it can be used to hit in the back women in order to make them fertile. Other historians think that in Roman times the festival would see men and women get drunk, naked, before performing the ritual, and then make a sort of coupling lottery of boys and girls that they would stay together for the duration of the festivity, or even for life if the coupling had turned out a success. Over the centuries the Lupercalia lost their original meaning and remained a folk festival (continued at least until 495 AD), then properly replaced by Valentine celebration.

Tags: Catholic Church, Traditions