Origins of Valentine’s Day, Lupercalia (History, Priesthoods)


Lupercalia was a very old annual pastoral feast, possibly pre-Roman, that is celebrated in the city of Rome every year, on February 15, to scare away the evil spirits and purify the city, freeing health and fertility.

Lupercalia included Februa, a spring cleaning ritual of previous origin held on the same date, which gives the name to the month of February (Februarius).


Name : Lupercalia

The festival was originally known as Februa (in Latin for “Purifications” or “Purges”) after the februum that was used that day. He was also known as Februatus and gave his name to Juno Februalis, Februlis or Februata in his role as deity patrona; to a god called Februus, and until February (mensis Februarius), the month in which it occurred. Ovidio mentions februare derived from an Etruscan word for “purging”. Some sources connect the Latin word for fever (febris) with the same idea of ​​purification or purge, due to the sweating that is commonly associated with fever.

Origins of Valentine's Day : Lupercalia (History & Priesthoods)

Wolf head, 1-100 CE, bronze, Roman, Cleveland Museum of Art (Source :

The name of Lupercalia was believed in antiquity to show some connection with the ancient Greek festival of Arcadia Lykaia, a feast of wolves (in Greek: λύκος, lýkos, Latin: lupus), and the cult of Lycaean Pan, which is supposed it is a Greek equivalent of Faunus, as instituted by Evander. Justin describes a cult image of “the god Lycaean, whom the Greeks call Pan and the Romans Lupercus”, as naked, except for a goat skin sash. It was in the Lupercal, the cave where tradition held that Romulus and Remus were breastfed by the wolf (Lupa). The cave was at the foot of the Palatine Hill, where it was thought that Romulus had founded Rome.


The Februa was old and possibly Sabine. After the month of February was added to the Roman calendar, Februa occurred on his fifteenth day (a.D. XV Kal. Mart.). Of its various rituals, the most important came to be those of the Lupercalia. The Romans themselves attributed the instigation of the Lupercalia to Evander, a cultural hero of Arcadia who was credited with bringing the Olympic pantheon, the Greek laws and the alphabet to Italy, where he founded the city of Pallantium in the future siege of Rome, 60 years before the Trojan War.


Lupercalia was celebrated in parts of Italy and Gaul; Luperci is attested by the inscriptions on Velitrae, Praeneste, Nemausus (modern Nîmes) and elsewhere. The ancient cult of the Hirpi Sorani (“wolves of Sorano”, of Sabine hirpus “wolf”), who practiced in the mountain. Soracte, 45 km (28 miles) north of Rome, had elements in common with the Roman Lupercalia.

The Lupercalia is marked on a calendar of 354 along with traditional and Christian feasts. Despite the prohibition in 391 of all non-Christian cults and festivals, Lupercalia was celebrated by the nominal Christian population regularly, in the reign of Emperor Anastasius. Pope Gelasius I (494-96), claiming that only the “vile rabble” was involved in the festival, sought its energetic abolition; The Senate protested that the Lupercalia was essential to Rome’s security and welfare. This provoked Gelasio’s dismissive suggestion that “if you affirm that this rite has a healthy force, celebrate it in the ancestral form: run naked to be able to carry out the mockery properly”. The commentary was addressed to Senator Andromachus by Gelasius in an extensive literary epistle that was practically a diatribe against the Lupercalia. The claim that Gelasius abolished the Lupercalia is done frequently, but there is no evidence to support it.

Some authors claim that Gelasio replaced Lupercalia with the “Feast of the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary”, but the researcher Oruch says that there is no written record that Gelasio had intended to replace Lupercalia. Some researchers, such as Kellog and Cox, have stated separately that the modern customs of Valentine’s Day originate in the customs of Lupercalia. Other researchers have rejected this claim: they say there is no evidence that the modern customs of Valentine’s Day come from the customs of Lupercalia, and the claim seems to be originated by misconceptions about festivities.


The rites were limited to the Lupercal cave, the Palatine hill and the Forum, all of which were central places in the myth of the founding of Rome. Near the cave was a shrine of Rumina, goddess of breastfeeding; and the wild fig tree (Ficus Ruminalis) to which Romulus and Remus were brought by the divine intervention of the river god Tiberino; Some Roman sources name the wild fig caprificus, literally “goat fig”. Like the cultivated fig, its fruit is pendulous and the tree emanates a milky sap if it is cut, which makes it a good candidate for a cult to lactation.


In Roman mythology and historical tradition, the priesthood and rites of the Luperci (“brothers of the wolf”) were attributed to the hero of the Arcadia Evander culture, or to Romulus and Remus, former shepherds who had established a following group. The Luperci were young men, or young men, usually between the ages of 20 and 40. They formed two religious collegia (associations) based on ancestry; the Quinctiliani (members of the gens Quinctilia) and the Fabiani (members of the gens Fabia). Each university was headed by a magister.

Origins of Valentine's Day : Lupercalia (History & Priesthoods)

The Lupercalian Festival in Rome (ca. 1578–1610), drawing by the circle of Adam Elsheimer, showing the Luperci dressed as dogs and goats, with Cupid and personifications of fertility (Source :

In 44 a. C., a third university was instituted, the Juliani, in honor of Julio César; his first magister was Mark Antony. Antonio offered Caesar a crown during the Lupercalia, an act that was widely interpreted as a sign that Cesar aspired to become king and was measuring the reaction of the crowd. The school of Juliiani dissolved or decayed during the civil wars of César, and was not restored in the reforms of its successor, Augusto. In the imperial era, the membership of the two traditional schools was opened to young people of equestrian status.



Horace’s Ode III, 18 alludes to the Lupercalia. The festival or its associated rituals gave their name to the Roman month of February (mensis Februarius) and from there to the modern month. The Roman god Februus personified both the month and the purification, but it seems to postpone both.

The work of William Shakespeare Julius Caesar begins during the Lupercalia. Marco César instructs Marco Antonio to beat his wife Calpurnia, hoping he can conceive.

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