The above image shows Romulus and Remus, born to Vestal Virgin Rhea Silvia and the god Mars or the demi-God Hercules. Amulius had seized power from his brother Numitor and had forced Rhea Silvia, Numitor’s daughter, to become a Vestal Virgin so she would not bear children.
After the birth of Romulus and Remus, Amulius threw the babies into the river Tiber and sent their mother to jail. However, Romulus and Remus were saved by shepherds and fed by a she-wolf, Lupa, in a cave called Lupercal, perhaps located at the foot of Palatine Hill. They were then discovered by Faustulus, a shepherd.
The feral twins killed Amulius when they learned about their mother, but Romulus killed Remus who wanted Rome founded on Aventile Hill rather than Palatine Hill. Whence, the existence of Lupercus (from lupus: wolf), the Roman god of shepherds, and that of the Lupercalia, a yearly Roman festival honoring Lupa.
Lupercalia & Candlemas
In ancient Rome, the Lupercalia (Lupercus) took place between 13th and 15th of February. This “pagan” feast is sometimes associated with Candlemas, celebrated on the 2nd of February. The Julian Calendar ceased to reflect the seasons, the degree of lightness or darkness, and was therefore replaced with the Gregorian calendar. The Eastern Church reflects this discrepancy.
As we will see, there was a motivation to transform the Lupercalia into a Christian feast. However, the Lupercalia endured until the 5th century CE and was celebrated beginning on the Ides of February, i.e. the 13th, ending two days later, on the 15th.
At the start of the Lupercalia, two goats and a dog were sacrificed. Next, two young Luperci, members of a corporation of priests, were led to the altar and anointed with the blood of the sacrificed animals. Luperci then dressed themselves in thongs, called februa, taken from skin of the of the sacrificed goats and dog and ran around the walls of the old Palatine city carrying thongs and striking the crowd.
Pancake Day or La fête des crêpes
Later, salt meal cakes prepared by the Vestal Virgins were burnt, which is interesting because in France, Candlemas, celebrated on 2nd February, is “la fête des crêpes” or Pancake Day and today, 12th February is International Pancake Day. It would be my opinion that the pan of pancakes is the pan of pots and pans, but would that it were Pan the “Greek god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, nature, of mountain wilds, hunting and rustic music, and companion of the nymphs” (Pan, Wikipedia).
Pan’s Roman counterpart was Faunus. But Pan protected the flocks from wolves, which would suggest that he was also the counterpart of Lupercus, the above-mentioned Roman god of shepherds who replaced an earlier god named Februus (see Lupercalia, Wikipedia).
However, for our purposes, the ancient and “pagan” Lupercalia was an event which Pope Saint Gelasius I (494–96) wanted to abolish. Senators opposed him, so he invited them to run nude themselves. Gelasius I did not replace the Lupercalia, but a Christian feast would be celebrated on 2nd February, 40 days after Christmas. It would commemorate the “Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” to be observed on Candlemas. It was a noble thought, but Lupercalia was not replaced. However, a St Valentine would be commemorated, but other Valentines would be celebrated on Saint Valentine’s Day, the 14th of February which were the Ides of February. [i] According to Britannica, “[i]t came to be celebrated as a day of romance from about the 14th century.”[ii] That would be in Chaucer’s (born c. 1342/43 died 25 October 1400) lifetime.
The many Saints called Valentine
There was a St Valentine a convert and a physician, who may have restored the sight of his gaoler’s blind daughter. According to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, this Valentine was clubbed to death c. 270. His feast day is the 14th of February. However, there could be other beatified Valentines. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, there are three saints named Valentine, one of whom would the bishop of Terni, formerly Interamna. The fact remains that Roman Martyrology recognizes only one St Valentine, a martyr who died on the Via Flaminia and whose feast day is the 14th of February. (See Saint Valentine, Wikipedia.)
I will break here. We have gone from the Lupercalia to Valentine’s Day and stumbled upon la fête des crêpes (2nd February) or Pancake Day, which is quite a journey. Let us return to the Lupercalia. Pope Saint Gelasius I may have abolished Lupercalia, but Lupercalia remained. However, although there is at least one saint named Valentine, Valentine’s Day is very much as described in Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. It is a “relic” of a pagan feast celebrated in February that remains a celebration of love and friendship and a bit of a carnival. It should be noted that Epiphanytide, which beings on the 6th of January, ends on the 2nd of February, on Candlemas. As for Carnival season, it also begins on Epiphany, but it ends on Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday), a few days before Easter.
Capitoline Wolf, bronze, 13th and late 15th century CE or c. 500 – 480 BCE.
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Sources and Resources
[i] “Valentine’s Day”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 14 Feb. 2013
—ooo—composer: Jacques Offenbach (20 June 1819 – 5 October 1880) piece: Barcarolle performers: Philippe Jaroussky (born 13 February 1978 in Maisons-Laffitte, France) countertenor Natalie Dessay (19 April 1965, in Lyon) coloratura soprano
© Micheline Walker
12 February 2013