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Février, Les Très Riches Heures de Jean de France, duc de Berry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Happy Valentine’s Day to you!

Today is Valentine’s Day: la Saint-Valentin. My best wishes to all of you. 

I have written several posts on Valentine’s Day and did some research again yesterday. This time, I read Wikipedia’s entry on Valentine’s day in which it is stated that there is no link between Lupercalia and Valentine’s DayLupercalia was replaced by Candlemas. As for Valentine’s Day, a celebration of Romantic love, it was all but invented by Chaucer who called the day “seynt” Valentine’s Day.

When Chaucer was released from captivity, during the Hundred Years’ War, he took to England the French Roman de la Rose, a work of literature that epitomizes courtly love. However, it was an exchange. Charles d’Orléans, who was detained in England for 25 years during the Hundred Years’ War, took to France the lore of Valentine’s Day as it existed in England and a large number of his poems refer to Valentine. According to the legend, as expressed by Chaucer, birds mate on 14 February.

In The Parlement of Foules (1382), Chaucer wrote:

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

[“For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”]


So let us make matters clear. It is reported that Pope Saint Gelasius I (494–96 CE) wanted to replace a raucous pagan feast, Lupercalia (from lupus, wolf), with a Christian feast. Lupercalia became the feast of the Purification of the Virgin, but it also commemorated the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple and the Meeting of the Lord, when Simeon’s wish came true, Simeon was an old man who wanted to see Jesus before he died and, having seen Jesus, said that he could now leave. His words are the words of a canticle (un cantique), a song of praise and joy, entitled the “Nunc Dimittis.” The new feast was Candlemas, which  was celebrated on 2 February. Here is a list of feasts associated with Candlemas:

  • the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin
  • the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple
  • the Meeting of the Lord (see Simeon, Gospel of Luke, Wikipedia)

Note, however, that the above-mentioned feasts are called Candlemas, la Chandeleur, which suggests a possible festival of lights. From the most remote and pagan antiquity, humans have always celebrated the degree of light and darkness from season to season. Carnival season is now over. It ended on Ash Wednesday, the 10th of February, the day after Mardi Gras, a day of revelry and merriment.

Easter: the moveable feast

  • near the vernal equinox

Our next feast is Easter, which is celebrated near the vernal equinox (equal night), a day when night and day are approximately the same length. This year, the vernal equinox is 20 March and Easter, a moveable feast, will be celebrated on 27 March. But there is more light today than on Christmas day, the day of the longest night. On 14 February, we therefore celebrate Valentine’s Day because the days are getting longer.

St Valentine’s Day

  • Valentine’s Day and the Ides of February
  • Lupercalia and Valentine’s Day

So Valentine’s Day, a feast honouring a St Valentine (la Saint-Valentin), did not replace Lupercalia, but Lupercalia was a fertility ritual and Valentine’s day, the day on which birds mate. There is a link. Moreover, the Ides of February, which fell on 13 February, were Lupercalia. (See Lupercalia, Wikipedia.) The better-known Ides are the Ides of March, “the 15th day of the Roman month of Martius[,]” a day associated with the assassination of Julius Caesar who developed the Julian Calendar. (See The Ides of March, Wikipedia.)

The Gregorian Calendar: the Ides of February

The Julian Calendar was replaced by the Gregorian calendar, because feasts, Easter in particular, no longer matched the seasons. Gregorian refers to Pope Gregory XIII and the Gregorian Calendar was introduced in 1582. Candlemas, which replaced Lupercalia, would be celebrated on 2 February, but the Ides of February remained the middle of the month of February which is when Valentine’s Day is celebrated.àhere’s another link.


Pope Gregory XIII by Lavinia Fontana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Saint Valentine’s Day is listed on a page entitled: Posts on Love Celebrated. I have made one small change to make sure Lupercalia is linked to Candlemas, la Chandeleur and Valentine’s Day to its proper sources: a martyr, a legend, the festivities associated with Februarius and, perhaps, the Ides of February, that could not be moved to 2 February or Candlemas but could be the day when St Valentine’s Day was celebrated.


The Soussa Mosaic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Februarius panel from the 3rd-century mosaic of the months at El Djem, Tunisia (Roman Africa)

Seasons, months (see Roman calendar, Wikipedia), darkness, and light have long been celebrated in every culture. An eloquent example is the Soussa Mosaic. (See Februarius, Wikipedia.)

My very best wishes!

Thomas Tallis: “If ye love me”


© Micheline Walker
14 February 2016