Animal Sacrifices & Love Letters

The History of Valentine’s Day

So you want to celebrate your love on Valentine’s Day. Grab some flowers and chocolates and go to town on some fancy dinner with your significant other. Although, do we really know why this day is surrounded by love? I mean, where did the ideas we celebrate today even come from? 

Feb. 14—or St. Valentine’s feast day, as it is viewed in the Catholic Church—is recognized as the day to commemorate martyred Saint Valentine, a priest who served the Church during the third century in Rome. What made him so important? While the origin is still widely unknown, one story suggests Emperor Claudius II thought single men were better fit as soldiers and, as result, outlawed marriage for younger men. However, it is said that Valentine defied the emperor and continued to perform marriages in secret before he was discovered and put to death. This is not the only story believed by the Catholic church.

Another one suggests Valentine was imprisoned at the time. During his imprisonment, he fell in love with a girl who visited him often. Before he was put to death, he sent a letter to his love and signed it, “From your Valentine.” It is suggested that this is the first “valentine’s greeting” in history, but it is shrouded in uncertainty. 

Others believe Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan holiday Lupercalia. Lupercalia is a fertility festival dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture, Faunus, as well as Remus and Romulus, the founders of Rome. 

On Lupercalia an order of Roman priests, known as the Luperci, would gather and sacrifice a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. I know, rather gory, but hang in there, it gets even more interesting. Using the goat’s hide dipped in blood, the priests would roam the streets and slap the women and crop fields with it. This tradition was welcomed by the women in an effort to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, the women would gather their names in an urn where the bachelors in the town would choose a name to become paired with for the year, usually ending in a marriage. The pagan holiday was outlawed in the fifth century after Pope Galasius declared it Valentine’s Day, deeming Lupercalia “un-Christian.” 

But what about Cupid? Where did anyone get the idea to associate a chubby little baby shooting arrows with a holiday shrouded in beliefs of fertility, love, animal sacrifices and death? That originated from Roman mythology. The Greek god of love, Eros, was believed to have golden arrows used to amplify love and in later years was portrayed as a child. In Roman mythology, Eros was referred to as Cupid.

Come the 17th century, Feb. 14 became a common day to exchange tokens of affection and, as the years went on, a day to exchange loving cards. This all turned into what we celebrate today as Valentine’s Day. What was once a day based on faith and various gods, is now the card, candy and flower industries’ biggest day. 

Whatever you choose to believe this Valentine’s Day, take the time to appreciate your loved ones…goat blood not needed. 


About Molly Britt

Molly Britt is a multimedia journalist with Folio Weekly, as well as an account executive. As a Jax Beach local and University of North Florida graduate, she is familiar with all things Duval and Northeast Florida. She enjoys investigative journalism and interviews, using her platform to educate and inform the local community with her words. While at Folio, Britt has enjoyed interviews with the likes of Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls and local small businesses such as Femme Fire Books.