They stripped naked and covered some parts of their bodies with the skins of goats they had just slaughtered. They ran through the streets of Ancient Rome, carrying with them nothing but those rags and a whip, which they used to whip all the women they met. Lupercales was one of the most famous festivals of the time and arose, according to legend, with the aim of easing the fertility crisis and thereby increasing the number of births.

Although these celebrations were banned by the Church in 494, their glory endures to this day as the precursor to what we know today as Valentine’s Day, celebrated every February 14th. Because this was precisely the day when the young men of the Roman elite gathered in the grotto to prepare what was to be the festival of the year, which was held on the 15th of the same month and which intended to fill its streets with Roman children. .

“Mars, the god of war, fell madly in love with her and left her pregnant with twins known as Romulus and Remus.”

At the origins of the holiday was the wolf, represented by the Faun Luperco, the god of fertility and male sexuality. The history of this animal at the founding of Rome is well known. Legend tells that the king of Alba Longa was succeeded by his brother Amulion, who killed his sons and forced his daughter Rhea Silvia to live as a priestess, always chaste, so that she could not have children who would challenge the throne. But Mars, the god of war, fell madly in love with her and left her pregnant with twins known as Romulus and Remus.

When Amulio found out about this, he sent a trusted man to kill them, but did not complete his mission and abandoned them in the Tiber River. They were found by the shepherd Faustulus and raised by a wolf until they became adults and returned to kill their uncle and return the throne to their grandfather, Rhea’s father.

Over the years, the women of the city began to have fewer and fewer children, and they asked the oracle of the goddess Juno what they could do. “Mothers of Latium, let the hairy goat impregnate you,” he told them. The priests interpreted the words of the goddess, sacrificed a goat and made a belt from its skin, which was used to flog several women who gave birth at nine months.

And from this legend this Roman holiday originated. Young and noble people from the city with hunting skills, the so-called lupercos, were chosen for him, because they were “friends of the wolf.” They all gathered on February 14 in the Lupercal grotto on the Palatine Hill, where, according to legend, a she-wolf suckled Romulus and Remus.

There, various animals, usually goats, are sacrificed and the forehead is painted with their blood in a ritual of masculinity and fertility. At the end of the ceremony, they undress and cover themselves with animal skins. In addition, the same leather is used to make belts for use as whips.

From this grotto they went out into the streets, lashing women who got in their way. It is said that even many married women would come up to them and place their palms on them so that they could be hit so that they would get pregnant quickly. In addition, some of the already pregnant women allowed themselves to be beaten with belts, thinking that this way they would have a good birth. It is even said that some of them exposed their upper bodies so that it would be easier to hit the back with a whip.

“Historians say that these were famous holidays, which were attended by many people, until Christianity began to spread.”

The whole process was flavored with wine, so that as the day wore on, the debauchery increased, and from time to time a couple could be seen having sex in the middle of the street, behavior that would have been unusual on any other day of the year. considered immodest and punished. They will conclude with a big banquet and maintain the euphoria until next year. Historians claim that these were famous holidays in which many people participated until Christianity began to spread.

From Lupercali to Valentine’s Day

Although the sexual charge gradually declined, it did not survive beyond the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius I decided to ban it, arguing that the festival involved only “vile rabble” who he found too lascivious and whose sexual accusations were inappropriate for his faithful. . He put an end to the Lupercals in 494 and decided to use this date to commemorate the martyrdom of Saint Valentine in 269.

This date is known as Valentine’s Day because the saint was executed for performing forbidden marriages on February 14th. Its history dates back to the 3rd century, when Christianity began to gain some strength and when Emperor Claudius III forbade young men from marrying so that they could enlist in the army and thus avoid losing men in battle. Valentin was a priest and decided to marry the young lovers and convert them to Christianity. For disobedience he was imprisoned, stoned and beheaded.