Towards the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius declared that February 14th would be forever known as St. Valentine’s Day. Why did he choose that day? What celebrations were before this day? The Roman Pagans and the Roman Catholics have had a sultry past. We will dive into the rabbit hole and discover the true meaning of St. Valentine’s Day.
Lupercalia is the ancient Roman Pagan holiday. Traditionally, the festival started on February 13th and ended on the 15th. No one knows precisely when it began, but some reports state 753 BCE. Lupercalia had some dark rituals associated with the times. The practices were to purify the city and its citizens. This promoted health and fertility throughout the year. This popular celebration lasted for over a millennium until Pope Gelasius declared St. Valentine’s Day.
At one time, Christianity was against the law in Rome. Christians were persecuted because of their faith. It was in 313 CE that Christians were free to practice their religion. This is thanks to Roman emperor Constantine the Great, who declared toleration. Eventually, the Christian faith became an official religion. When St. Valentine defied an order by Emperor Claudius II to stop marrying young men, St. Valentine was put to death. Pope Gelasius viewed St. Valentine as a martyr. He also did not like how popular the Lupercalia festivals were. The Roman Catholics were trying to bring in more people to their faith. This is why, in 496 CE, Pope Gelasius declared February 14th as St. Valentine’s Day.
You may wonder what this has to do with modern Valentine’s Day. In short, only a little. Some Valentine’s Day traditions come from both sides of the coin. Fertility and Cupid would come from the Roman Pagans. The celebration of gifts, togetherness, and honor comes from St. Valentine. As time passed, the holiday sprouted wings of love as birds began to mate through February. Additionally, poets and composers started to write songs and sonnets about love around this time of year.
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