top of page

The Unhinged History Of Valentine's Day

Brace yourself as Sophie Poredos cracks open the reality of Valentine’s Day’s origins.

Whether it conjures up images of roses and a candlelit dinner with a skip on dessert, or a picnic with the girls, Valentine’s Day has always been one of my favourite celebrations.

In honour of the 20th anniversary of THE yellow dress worn by Kate Hudson in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, I wanted to look back into history on how this day of love came to be.

The origin of the holiday is far from cute, with the fantastical romantic notions replaced with sacrifices, sadistic rituals, and public displays of sex. Valentine’s Day is based on the pagan festival known as ‘Lupercalia’, which may have initiated the assassination of Julius Caesar (talk about being stabbed in the back). Beginning at springtime, tribute was given to Lupercus (God of fertility), where two naked young priests would run across the sacred grounds of Palatine Hill in Ancient Rome to bless the Earth. This location was thought to be the same cave where the first King of Rome, Romulus and his twin Remus, were raised by a she-wolf. [1]

During this ritual, Roman men would essentially partner up and fornicate with women to promote fertility. This Dionysian way of freely thinking about sex is not exactly negative in this sex-positive shift modern media seems to be adopting. However, the sadistic nature of the festival reveals itself when men would whip women with sacrificed goat hide for the blessing of fertility. [2]

A particularly masochistic tradition, as the idea was for women to ‘submit with patience to the blows dealt by a fruitful hand’. [3]

Fast forward to 44 BC when political drama went down. During this year’s festival, high priest Mark Antony offered a laurel wreath to Caesar as a political manoeuvre for Julius to be King and, thus, control the masses once more as slaves. Whilst Caesar refused this offer, the seed of doubt was already planted. Exactly a month later, Brutus and his men assassinated Caesar because he had begun to become a ‘tyrant’ and Antony promised them amnesty for their crime.

Eventually, Pope Gelasius banned the celebrations of Lupercalia and transformed it into St. Valentine’s Day in 496 AD. Who was St. Valentine? Nobody really knows who this martyr was. He

may have been Bishop Valentinus who converted a judge from criminalising Christi

ans by healing his daughter. Perhaps even Priest Valentine, who married many lovers in secret after Emperor Claudius II banned engagements in his city during the 260s AD. Either way, the Roman Catholic register of Saints celebrates ten Saint Valentine’s though some scholars believe that some of these may have been the same man.

The next time you wish Valentine’s Day wasn’t as much of a capitalist exploitation of the idea of love, be thankful we still don’t have to get whipped by bloody goat hide.

[1] “The Lupercalia.” Uchicago, 18th February 2022, lupercalia.html

[2] “Julius Ceasar refused to be crowned king”, The Conversation, 18th February 2022, https://theconversation. com/julius-caesar-refused-to-be-crowned-king-132239

[3] “Did Valentine’s Day really originate in Italy?” The Local, 18th February 2022, https://www.thelocal. it/20220214/where-does-valentines-day-come-from/


bottom of page