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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Lapierre

Naked Whippings and a Beheading: The Bizarre Origins of Valentine’s Day

Lupercalia painting

Not to propagate the trending Roman Empire obsession, but Valentine’s Day stems from a pagan holiday honoring the Roman god of fertility, Lupercus. On Lupercalia, which they celebrated mid-Februray, priests of Lupercus would get naked, sacrifice a couple of goats and dog, host a big feast with lots of wine, fashion strips of hide from these unfortunate animals, and run around spanking young women with them to promote fertility. You know, romance! These goatskin whips were called “Februa” which meant “purifying tools,” and that’s how the month got its name.

In typical Church buzzkill fashion, however, a 5th Century pope declared that on February 14, people would celebrate Saint Valentine instead. Valentine was a Roman priest who defied Emperor Claudius II, who had banned marriage so men of the Roman Empire would be more willing to go to war. Valentine, however, continued to marry people in secret. When the Emperor found out, he had poor, romantic Valentine beheaded. We’ve come a long way with our chocolates, roses and sparkly jewelry from animal sacrifice and executions. Happy LUPERCALENTINE’S. Long live love.

[Image: Lupercalia, 1635. Oil on canvas, by Adrea Vegagna Camassei, Madrid, Museo del Prado]

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