Flowers for the she-wolf or for Saint Valentine?

From ancient times the Romans celebrated the Feast of Lupercalia around the Ides of February – the 13th. It was a festival to purify the city and promote health and fertility. Lupus is Latin for wolf and Lupercus was the god of shepherds. The Lupercal was the cave where the legendary founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, were suckled by the she-wolf, Lupa.

So how did this lead to notions of romance and where does Valentine fit in?

It could relate back to the Roman custom of young men running naked around the city and young women lashing them on route to ensure fertility and pain-free childbirth. And it could be that the early church fathers sought to replace the pagan festival with something more holy.

Saint Valentine’s Day honoured a Christian martyr. There were possibly two, or even three, saints called Valentinus, all with different stories.

One story details how, under the reign of Emperor Claudius II, all weddings and engagements had been cancelled in an effort to boost military numbers. Claudius II figured that without a wife or sweetheart to leave behind, men would be more willing to fight. Valentine disagreed however and continued to conduct marriage services in secret. He became known as the ‘friend of lovers’but was found out and condemned to death.

Whilst awaiting his fate, Valentine is said to have fallen in love with the daughter of the gaoler. He wrote her a farewell note signed, “From your Valentine”, thus beginning a lasting tradition. His punishment was carried out on February 14, 270 AD.

How much truth is in this tale is debatable, but it sounds plausible. It seems that romance really became part of Valentine’s Day in the time of Chaucer, when courtly love was a popular subject for literature.

The heart-shaped chocolate boxes came into the picture much later.