Lupercalia, the ancient Roman festival of fertility and purification held on Feb 15, connecting to the origins of Valentine’s Day

Lupercalia was an ancient Roman festival held annually on February 15th, dedicated to Lupercus, the god of shepherds and fertility. The celebration aimed to purify the city, promoting health and fertility among its citizens and livestock. The festival, deeply rooted in Roman mythology and tradition, took place in the Lupercal Cave on the Palatine Hill, believed to be the site where Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were nursed by a she-wolf.

The rites involved Luperci, priests of Lupercus, who would sacrifice goats and a dog, symbols of fertility and purification. After the sacrifice, two young noble Luperci were anointed with the sacrificial blood, which was then wiped off with wool soaked in milk, symbolizing rebirth and fertility. The priests would then cut strips from the skins of the sacrificed animals, using them to strike people, especially women, to confer fertility.

Lupercalia’s practices and themes reflected the agrarian nature of early Roman society, emphasizing fertility and the cycle of life. Despite its pagan origins, the festival survived into the early years of Christianity, albeit with significant opposition from the Church, before being replaced by the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, or Candlemas, and later contributing to the traditions of Valentine’s Day.

Key Traditions of Lupercalia

Sacrificial Rituals

At the heart of Lupercalia were the sacrificial rituals conducted by the Luperci priests, involving the sacrifice of goats and a dog to the god Lupercus. This act was believed to purify the city and promote fertility.

Anointing of Luperci

After the sacrifice, two Luperci were anointed with the blood of the sacrificed animals on their foreheads, then cleansed with wool soaked in milk, symbolizing rebirth and fertility.


The Luperci would then cut thongs, known as februa, from the animals’ skins. Running naked or near-naked around the Palatine Hill, they would strike those they met with these thongs, a ritual believed to ensure fertility.

Feast of Lupercal

Following the sacrifices and ritual running, a communal feast was held, celebrating the completion of the purification and fertility rites.

Most Important Works of Literature About Lupercalia

“The Fasti” by Ovid Ovid’s “Fasti,” a Latin poem describing the Roman calendar, dedicates passages to Lupercalia, offering insight into its rituals and significance in ancient Roman culture.

Other Relevant Tips for Observance

Historical Reenactment Participating in or watching reenactments of the Lupercalia rituals can provide a deeper understanding of the festival’s significance and traditions.

Educational Workshops Attending workshops or lectures on ancient Roman history and mythology can offer valuable insights into Lupercalia and its role within Roman society.

Cultural Exhibitions Visiting museums or cultural institutions that feature exhibits on Roman life and festivals can enhance appreciation for Lupercalia’s historical context.

Featured image: Wikipedia

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