Valentine's Day: When men beat women with animal hides
8 || risingbd.com
Even though this 'day of love' has most couples rushing to make each other happy with flowers, gifts and candies, the history of Valentine's Day is rather dicey.
Most people picture a romantic St. Valentine who wrote the first love poems for his beloved and made the day famous in his name when he died. But that is nowhere near the truth.
But even before these saints, there was the gory pagan festival of Lupercalia, which was hushed up and replaced with the more demure and 'Christian' St. Valentine's Day.
Pagan origins of Valentine's Day
The origin of Valentine's Day has a few very gory tales associated with it. Many believe that fixing February 14 as the date for St Valentine's feast day was an attempt to 'Christianise' the pagan fertility festival of Lupercalia, dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture Faunus, and the founders of Rome -- Romulus and Remus.
To celebrate Lupercalia during February 13 to 15, the members of the order of Roman priests called 'Luperci' assembled in the sacred cave where Romulus and Remus were supposed to have been taken care of by the she-wolf. The priests would then sacrifice a dog for purification and a goat for fertility.
Though the men were half-naked and running through the streets, the women welcomed this act as per the beliefs of the time and actually lined up for the same.
Later on, all young and unmarried women would put their names in a big urn and the bachelors in the city would pick out a name from it, after which the couple would be paired for a year. This arrangement often ended with the couples being married.
The rowdy festival was denounced by Pope Gelacius I in 496 AD. But there is no strong proof that St Valentine's Day was established particularly to replace or cover up Lupercalia.
Who were the three St Valentines?
Historical records from the Bollandists -- an order of Belgian monks who started off in 1643 to spend three centuries recording the details of every Christian saint -- tell us that there were three St Valentines who apparently died on February 14.
The stories about 'Valentini' were numerous but the oldest three are the most significant. The earliest account of Valentinus was just about a man who died in Africa with 24 soldiers, while the two other stories had more information.
The second Valentinus was a Roman priest who was arrested at the time of Gothicus and put into the custody of Asterius, an aristocrat. As the preacher preached, Asterius promised to convert if Valentinus could cure the blindness of his foster-daughter.
The priest was successful and the entire family of Asterius was baptised. However,the emperor ordered all of them to be executed. However, only Valentinus was beheaded, and a devoted widow buried his body on Via Flaminia, over which a chapel was built much later.
The third Valentinus was a bishop of Terni, in Umbria, Italy. His story is very similar to the second priest's. He debated with a potential convert, healed his son, was beheaded on the orders of Gothicus, and was buried along Via Flaminia.
However, whichever way you look at it, none of these African, Roman or Umbrian St Valentines were lovers or romantics.
Medieval fantasy tales bringing in the 'romantic' factor
As time passed, stories of miracles surrounding the saints came up in the Middle Ages which talked about St Valentine performing secret marriage rituals when Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for young men as men without families made better soldiers.
But Bollandists point out that these tales have no historical basis.
Many monasteries and churches around medieval Europe also started to claim that they have some piece or another of one of the dead saints.
Believers eulogised the 'powers' of the presence of the St Valentines and one 11th century bishop in Brittany used a supposed head of one of the Valentines to cure illnesses, prevent epidemics and even stop fire.
But even then, the remains of St Valentines had no special power over love or lovers, even though the saints in question were definitely sympathetic heroes for the people.