Though popular modern sources link unspecified Graeco-Roman February holidays alleged to be devoted to fertility and love to St Valentine’s Day, Professor Jack Oruch of the University of Kansas argued that prior to Chaucer, no links between the Saints named Valentinus and romantic love existed. …In Ancient Rome, February 15 was Lupercalia, an archaic rite connected to fertility, without overtones of romance. Plutarch wrote:
Lupercalia, of which many write that it was anciently celebrated by shepherds, and has also some connection with the Arcadian Lycaea. At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.
Lupercalia was a festival local to the city of Rome. The more general Festival of Juno Februa, meaning “Juno the purifier “or “the chaste Juno,” was celebrated on February 13-14. Pope Gelasius I (492-496) abolished Lupercalia.
A festival said to be of Juno Februata or Juno Februa, though it does not appear in Ovid’s Fasti was described by Alban Butler, famous as the author of Butler’s Lives of Saints, who presented an aspect of the Roman Lupercalia as a festival of a “Juno Februata”, under the heading of February 14:
- “To abolish the heathens lewd superstitious custom of boys drawing the names of girls, in honour of their goddess Februata Juno, on the fifteenth of this month, several zealous pastors substituted the names of saints in billets, given on this day.”
Jack Oruch, who noted Butler’s inventive confusion, noted that it was embellished by Francis Douce, in Illustrations of Shakespeare, and of Ancient Manners, new ed. London, 1839, p 470, who took such a festival for the Lupercalia, which was celebrated, he asserted,
- “during a great art of the month of February…. in honour of Pan and Juno… On this occasion, amidst a variety of ceremonies, the names of young women were put into a box, from which they were drawn by the men as chance directed.” Douce repeated Butler’s description of the attempt to substitute saint’s names, and concluded that “as the festival of the Lupercalia had commenced about the middle of February, [the Christians] appear to have chosen Saint Valentine’s day for celebrating the new feast; because it occurred nearly at the same time”
Fertility festivals? Who has time for that? See: Surprising reasons you’re not having sex