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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.

Chaucer was a prisoner during the Hundred Years’ War. When he was released, 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 not only poems he had written referring to Valentine, but also the lore of Valentine’s Day as it existed in England.  Legend has it, wrote Chaucer, that 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 as clear as possible. It is reported that Pope Saint Gelasius I (494–96 CE) wanted to replace a “pagan” feast, called Lupercalia (from lupus, wolf), with a Christian feast. Candlemas was the new feast and it did not replace Lupercalia. It would be celebrated 40 days after Christmas, on 2nd February, and honour three closely-related events: 

  1. the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin
  2. the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple
  3. the Meeting of the Lord (see Simeon, Gospel of Luke, Wikipedia)

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 now you dismiss. His words are the words of a canticle (un cantique), a song of praise and joy, entitled “Nunc dimittis.” 

Let us note, however, that the above-mentioned feast is 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 lightness and darkness from season to season. Carnival season ended on Ash Wednesday, or 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 a day when night and day are approximately of the same duration or nearly equal. Christmas is the day of the longest night. So, on 14 February, Valentine’s Day, the days are getting longer, but we have not reached the vernal equinoctial day of the year. 

St Valentine’s Day

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

Candlemas did not replace Lupercalia, a fertility ritual and a day of purification. If St Valentine’s Day (la Saint-Valentin) is the day on which birds mate, there would be a commonality between Lupercalia and Valentine’s day. But the Ides of February, which fell on 13 February, were Lupercalia. (See Lupercalia, Wikipedia.) As shown 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 celebrated on 2 February, but the Ides of February remained the middle of February which is when Valentine’s Day is celebrated.


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. La Chandeleur, Candlemas would not be linked to Valentine’s Day. Its proper source is the commemoration of a martyr. associated with Februus, a god and Februarius a month perhaps, the Ides of February.


The Soussa Mosaic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Februus 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 Soussa Mosaic. (See Februarius, Wikipedia.)

My very best wishes!

Thomas Tallis: “If ye love me”


© Micheline Walker
14 February 2016