Today is Saint Valentine’s Day, a day of roses and romance, but you knew that anyway by the sacks of cards you’ve already received. So let’s jump into our time machine built for two and transport ourselves back to Ancient Rome to explore the origins of this day for dating.
Valentine’s Day is a Christian festival, but some writers believe it has its origins in the Roman festival of Lupercalia which was observed from the 13th to 15th of February. According to Professor Noel Lenski of the University of Colorado at Boulder, the festival which included naked men spanking local maidens to ensure their fertility was popular into the 5th Century AD (over a century after Christianity became the state religion). Unsurprisingly, the early Christians were less than impressed by such naughtiness and tried to stop the celebrations, but they met with so much opposition they had to change tack and made the festival into a saint’s day, thus taming the wilder excesses that had marked the Lupercalia. According to legend St. Valentine, who may or may not have actually existed, flouted a ban by the Emperor Claudius II forbidding young men to marry by conducting secret wedding ceremonies. He paid a heavy price for his disobedience and was martyred on 14th February 270.