Lupercalia is uniquely Roman. Each year on February 15, the Luperci priests gathered on Palantine Hill at the cave of Lupercal. Vestal virgins brought sacred cakes made from the first ears of last year’s grain harvest to the fig tree. Youths donned loincloths made from the skin of the goat and led groups of priests around the pomarium, the sacred boundary of the ancient city. The occasion was happy and festive. As they ran about the city, the young men lightly struck women along the way with strips of the goat hide. It is from these implements of purification, or februa, that the month of February gets its name. This act supposedly provided purification from curses, bad luck, and infertility. Roman armies took the Lupercalia customs with them as they invaded France and England. One of these was a lottery where the names of available maidens were placed in a box and drawn out by the young men. Each man accepted the girl whose name he drew as his love – for the duration of the festival, or sometimes longer.
Lupercalia, with its lover lottery, had no place in the new Christian order. In the year 496 AD, Pope Gelasius did away with the festival of Lupercalia, citing that it was pagan and immoral. He chose Valentine as the patron saint of lovers, who would be honoured at the new festival on the fourteenth of every February. The church decided to come up with its own lottery and so the feast of St. Valentine featured a lottery of Saints. One would pull the name of a saint out of a box, and for the following year, study and attempt to emulate that saint. During the medieval days of chivalry, the single’s lottery was very popular. The names of English maidens and bachelors were put into a box and drawn out in pairs. The couple exchanged gifts and the girl became the man’s valentine for a year. He wore her name on his sleeve and it was his bounded duty to attend and protect her. The ancient custom of drawing names on the 14th of February was considered a good omen for love.
By the 17th century, handmade cards had become quite elaborate. In 1797, a British publisher issued sentimental verses for the young lover suffering from writer’s block. Printers began producing a limited number of cards with verses and sketches, called “mechanical valentines,” and a reduction in postal rates in the next century ushered in the practice of mailing valentines.



  1. A very interesting piece of history! Especially the lover-lottery! By the way, could this due to women’s lack of the same status as men at that time? and this day has become some sort of a one-night-stand here in big cities.

  2. This is the half of the history of Valentine’s Day I was never told! Growing up as a Roman Catholic, I was only taught about St. Valentine who was martyred with multiple arrows by the Romans, which purportedly explained the little cherub and his heavenly sling-shot and the valentine with the pierced heart forever pining for love of God.

    It does seem history suggests that Rome’s original version has had more staying power than the version derived by Roman Catholicism.

  3. I’ve read many versions of Valentine but never heard about this before. Very interesting. Nowadays, Valentine’s Day is used as a marketing strategy to make money.

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