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Viscious valentines

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Feb 14 2017 11:00AM

The Feast of St. Valentine on 14th February commemorates the beatification of Valentine, a priest imprisoned and executed by the Romans for preaching Christianity.

It was only in the Middle Ages that Valentine's Day started to become associated with romantic love, particularly thanks to the writing of Geoffrey Chaucer, and by the 18th Century it had become the festival that we recognise today with sweethearts exchanging cards, presents and flowers.

Despite the over-commercialisation that it has undoubtedly been subjected to, most of us still look forward to receiving a card or two and to the opportunity to cook a meal for our loved ones. But it’s possible that the day has its roots in something much older and more lascivious.

The pre-Roman festival of Lupercalia was celebrated between 13th and 15th February. Lupercalia celebrated Lupa, the wolf who had suckled Romulus and Remus (the twin founders of Rome), and Lupercus, the Roman god of shepherds. The party would kick off with a sacrifice of goats and dogs. As part of the festivities, the animals' skins were cut into thongs and used to whip girls and young women to ensure their fertility. So, hardly the mushy, romantic stuff of today.

Whether or not Lupercalia is, in fact, the mother of the modern day Valentine’s Day is hotly debated by academics. But they do share some similar themes and it is not hard to see how feasts and festivals falling around the same date might have become intertwined.

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