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The founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, were said to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa, who was feted in mid-February with the festival of Lupercalia. Roman priests from the Luperci order would gather and for purification, they would sacrifice a dog, while fertility required the sacrifice of a goat. Its hide was then cut into strips used to gently slap some fertility into both the nearby crop fields and female festivalgoers alike. These young women would later place their names into a large urn and the city's bachelors would each choose a name and become paired with her for a year. Often these matches ended up in marriage. Since mid-February coincided also with birds' mating season, it only strengthened the association of the day with notions of romance. (image at top)
Lupercalia was eventually outlawed as “un-Christian” but reinstated again at the end of the 5th century, thanks to Pope Gelasius, who declared that February 14 would commemorate St. Valentine. Who could be any of the three saints named Valentine or Valentinus recognized by the Catholic Church, all of which were martyred. There was the priest Valentine who defied Emperor Claudius II by peforming marriages for soldiers (the emperor thought singletons fought better); Claudius ordered the priest put to death. Then there is the myth of Valentine who was killed for attempting to help Christians escape the harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured. Or the legend of the imprisoned Valentine who fell in love with a young girl, perhaps the jailor's daughter, and penned a letter signed "from your Valentine." While the details differ, the stories do have one thing in common: a sympathetic, romantic hero. Whose reputation continued to spread, making him one of the most popular of the saints in England and France during the Middle Ages, when Valentine's greetings were apparently quite popular. The oldest example of a written valentine is thought to date from 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans; he was captured at the Battle of Agincourt and imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he penned his famous poem to his wife. This romantic greeting is now in the British Library's manuscript collection. When King Henry V wanted to send a Valentine's Day love note to Catherine of Valois, he hired the writer John Lydgate. (image)
Did the church in fact hijack the pagan celebration of Lupercalia in order to "Christianize" the festivities? Would the real Valentine please stand up? Mysteries, both, but fitting because in the same way that the origins of Valentine's Day are murky, so it is with matters of the heart. (image)
And if your heartstrings aren't pulled by the over-the-top gooeyness the day has morphed into, you could always go over to the dark side & read more about the infamous Valentine's Day Massacre involving Al Capone. It took place in Chicago during Prohibition on Valentine's Day in 1929, when "associates" from Capone's South Side gang lined up seven members of Bugs Moran's rival North Side gang against a garage wall in Lincoln Park - and executed them. Even by today's violence-drenched standards, the black-and-white newspaper shot of the crime scene is chilling.
Then be sure to check out this fun piece filled with innovative ways to celebrate anti-Valentine's Day - in a manner more befitting to the Apocalytical fashion tribe.
Here is the podcast I recorded about this - Episode 70: A Short, Sexy History of Valentine's Day
history of Valentine's Day (History.com)
Music: Kevin MacLeod, Incompetech.com
- Lesley Scott