Today, we know Valentine’s Day as a time where love, roses, and imaginary Cupids are flying about and shooting arrows at unsuspecting lovers.
While there are several stories as to how Valentine’s Day came about, we’ve taken a look at the most disturbing of them all.
We’re just grateful we only have to send flowers these days.
Dark Origins Of Valentine’s Day
In the early days of the Roman Catholic Church, there were numerous saints named Valentine and many of them were martyred. Of those martyred, Valentine of Rome – who died in 269 – is said to be the main inspiration behind the day.
Living in Rome under the rule of Emperor Claudius II, one origin story says that Claudius outlawed marriage, citing that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and children.
Via Romans in Britain
Valentine, in response, defied the Emperor and continued to marry couples in secret. When the Emperor found out about this, he sentenced Valentine to death by beheading.
To add to the morbidity of the tale, Valentine’s skull is currently on display at the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome after first being discovered in the early 1800s.
Too dark? The skull is adorned with flowers, at least.
Lupercalia: A Wild Fertility Festival
The Romans sure knew how to party. Some historians claim that the modern customs of Valentine’s Day actually originate from the Roman festival, Lupercalia – a pagan fertility festival that aimed to purify the city of evil spirits. Sound romantic?
Celebrated on February 15th, it involved priests (called “Luperci”) gathering at the caves of Rome’s founders – Romulus and Remus – and sacrificing a dog for purification and a goat for fertility. Following the sacrifice, blood would be placed on the foreheads of two priests with a sacrificial knife, which was then cleaned with wool and soaked in milk. Afterwards, the priests were expected to smile or laugh.
If the idea of priests in a cave, laughing with animal blood on their faces doesn’t sound romantic to you … we understand.
After this, a sacrificial feast was had and the hide of the goat would be ripped into strips and dipped in blood before being taken to the streets. Priests would then run – laughing and half-naked, wearing only thongs made of the animals’ skin – and slap women and crop fields with the blood-soaked strips:
“At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped to an easy delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.”
We’ve got to say, we’re thankful for the commercialisation of Valentine’s Day. The idea of men running around and slapping us with blood-soaked animal hide doesn’t sound very appealing.