Q: What is the origin of Valentine’s Day?
A: Valentine’s Day traces its roots back about 2,000 years to the ancient Roman Festival called Lupercalia, dedicated to the pagan god Lupercus and celebrated annually from February 13–15.
Noel Lenski, a Yale Classics Professor, sheds light on this festival where young men participated in unheard-of traditions. They hit young women’s backsides with whips made from goat or dog skin, all in the belief that it would influence fertility.
In 313 A.D., Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the empire. Despite this, Lupercalia continued in later empires, like Emperor Anthemius’ reign (467–472). To Christianize the festival, Pope Gelasius I renamed Lupercalia to Saint Valentine’s Day in 496 A.D., declaring Saint Valentine the patron saint of lovers. However, in 1969, Pope Paul VI removed it from the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints, stating that little is known about Saint Valentine aside from being buried on February 14th.
In summary, to Christianize a pagan celebration, the Catholic pope chose a saint associated with February 14, Lupercalia’s date. Despite removal from the Catholic calendar in 1969, the holiday remains widely celebrated today, with significant spending indicating its enduring popularity. Although the “day of love” was once declared holy by a pope, it has nothing to do with Christianity. Rather, Valentine’s Day is evidently rooted in the pagan festivities of Rome.