While Valentine's Day shares its name with a Christian saint and occurs during the Roman month of cleansing (the month February comes from the word "februa" meaning "purging or purification"), the historical roots are anything but pure.
Like many Christian holidays or rituals that have Pagan roots many historians believe Valentine's Day evolved from the Roman holiday Lupercalia. While modern ideals of purity involved chastity, modesty, or calmness, Lupercalia was celebrated with nudity, animal sacrifices, and sexual rites. These rituals were said to ward off evil spirits and infertility and assist with purification of the (a the time) new Gregorian calendar month of February.
The holiday's origin has its history as early as 6th century BCE (Before Common Era), and the name is linked to the word for wolf and perhaps associated with Lupa, the she-wolf that fed Romulus and Remus who founded Rome. Lupercalia was still celebrated until late 5th century A.D. Apparently Pope Gelasius eliminated Lupercalia and declared February 14 the day to celebrate the martyrdom of Saint Valentine instead.
There are many myths and stories surrounding St. Valentine, and the one I like the most is that he was secretly marrying Christian couples in love during Roman rule around 3rd Century A.D. and was beheaded. He then became associated as the "patron saint of lovers" and romance. When Pope G eliminated Lupercalia, he declared February 14 to celebrate Saint Valentine who had been killed for his Christian beliefs several centuries earlier.
According to History.com: "Though it seems clear he didn't intend the day to commemorate love or passion. In fact, some modern biblical scholars warn Christians not to celebrate Valentine’s Day at all since it’s thought to be based on pagan rituals."
At the time it was said Pope G called for its ban saying it was "vile rabble" and that the senate protested it was "essential to Rome's safety and well-being."
I kinda think I would have liked that senate more than our current one.
As I understand it the holiday was quite extensive and involved several aspects, according to History.com:
Animal sacrifice: Festival began with two male goats and dog sacrifice in the Lupercal cave , representing sexuality. Then the blood was smeared on two naked men "priests"
Feast & Flagellation: After the sacrifice was the food and after eating men who performed the rituals and lashed women with goat skin who were running around naked, this is confusing to me. I get the sense it was similar to purity rituals of flagellation?
Sex rituals: Here's where it gets very interesting...during the festival men would choose women's names out of a jar who then became their partner for the remainder of the festival. Apparently sometimes they fell in love and stayed together.
That being said, I think I would have quite enjoyed Lupercalia with feasting, running around naked, and engaging in random sexual pairings.