St Valentine's Day: How Did a Tradition of Blood and Fertility Become a Celebration of Love?

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Cupid - Sputnik International, 1920, 13.02.2022
Valentine's Day is viewed by many as a "non-holiday" created by vendors to peddle flowers, chocolate, pink cards, and teddy bears, but the day has a bloody and ancient history.
When it comes to holidays, scary stories filled with blood are typically associated with Halloween, but delve into the history of St. Valentine's Day and you might learn something that will shock you.

Love and Romance? More Like Fertility and Blood

Many believe that what we know today as St. Valentine's Day, celebrated on 14 February, was initially the pagan festival of Lupercalia. The day was celebrated in the Roman Empire on 15 February and dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus.
The ancient Roman festival was about female fertility rather than romantic love – and there wasn't a piece of chocolate or a rose in sight. Tradition dictated that priests would gather at the entrance to the sacred cave where Romulus and Remus were believed to have been nurtured by a she-wolf. They would then sacrifice a goat (for fertility) and a dog (for purification).
The goat's hide would be cut into strips and dipped into sacrificial blood, with priests taking the bloody skin chunks to the streets and literally slapping Roman women of childbearing age with them in the belief that it would increase the likelihood of them becoming pregnant. The story continues that, at the end of the holiday, those women who were slapped would place bits of papyrus with their names written on them in a big urn, and the city's biologically-viable bachelors would each choose a name, becoming "coupled" with her for one year – which would sometimes end in marriage if things went well.
At the end of the 5th century, however, Pope Gelasius I declared 14 February to be St. Valentine’s Day, a move to "Christianise" a fertility festival without cancelling it completely.

Who is St.Valentine and... Which One is It?

Those who believe that Valentine's Day is actually dedicated to Saint Valentine are confused, however.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Catholic Church recognises at least three saints called Valentine, and all were martyred.
One of the three Valentines was a third century Roman priest. The second Saint Valentine comes from Terni (Interamna back at the time), a bishop who was martyred. It seems that both were sentenced to death for helping Christians at a time when the sect was constantly harassed. The third Saint Valentine is only known to have suffered in Africa, and there are no details about his life.
Legends about a Valentine - one of the three who ended up being the namesake for the holiday - say that after a Roman emperor prohibited marriage for young men due to a belief that single men were better warriors than those with families. The story goes that Valentine refused to obey and helped other young soldiers to be married. When our purported Valentine was found out, the emperor reportedly sentenced him to death.
Other stories claim that an imprisoned Valentine sent the first "valentine" to a young woman he was enamored with (some suggest that it was the jailor’s daughter), before being executed.
Regardless of one's choice for an origin story for the modern - 'Christianized' - equivalent of Valentine's Day, all are marked with imprisonment, execution and heartbreak. Ah, romance.
It could be offered, however, that a holiday about love and romance was implemented to simply balance - or cover up - a bloody origin story.
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