History - February fertility festivals
The association of the middle of February with love and fertility dates to ancient times. In the calendar of Ancient Athens, the period between mid January and mid February was the month of Gamelion, which was dedicated to the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera.
In Ancient Rome, the day of February 15 was Lupercalia, the festival of Lupercus, the god of fertility, who was represented as half-naked and dressed in goat skins. As part of the purification ritual, the priests of Lupercus would sacrifice goats to the god, and after drinking wine, they would run through the streets of Rome holding pieces of the goat skin above their heads, touching anyone they met. Young women especially would come forth voluntarily for the occasion, in the belief that being so touched would render them fruitful and bring easy b>childbirth.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia (1908), at least three different Saints Valentine, all of them martyrs and all quite obscure, are mentioned in the early martyrologies under the date of February 14:
- a priest in Rome who suffered martyrdom in the second half of the 3rd century and was buried on the Via Flaminia.
- a bishop of Interamna (modern Terni) also suffered martyrdom in the second half of the 3rd century and was also buried on the Via Flaminia, but in a different location than the priest.
- a martyr in North Africa, about whom little else is known.
The connection between St. Valentine and romantic love is not mentioned in any early histories and is regarded by secular historians as purely a matter of legend (see below). The feast of St. Valentine was first declared to be on February 14 by Pope Gelasius I in 496. There is a widespread legend that he created the day to counter the practice held on Lupercalia of young men and women pairing off as lovers by drawing their names out of an urn, but this practice is not attested in any sources from that era.
In the 19th century, relics of St. Valentine were donated by Pope Gregory XVI to the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland, which has become a popular place of pilgrimage on February 14.
In 1969, as part of a larger effort to pare down the number of saint days of purely legendary origin, the Church removed St. Valentine's Day as an official holiday from its calendar.