The roots of Valentine’s Day are cited by some sources to lie in the ancient Roman festival Lupercalia, largely because it took place annually on February 15 — the day after what is today the observed date of Valentine’s Day — and involved some very primitive forms of courtship and matchmaking. But it was also ancient Rome that saw the famous execution of a St. Valentine on February 14, around 278 A.D. According to legend, he wrote a letter on the night before his execution to his jailer’s daughter, whom he had befriended, and signed it, “From Your Valentine.”
Over two centuries later, Pope Gelasius ordered that Lupercalia be replaced with the February 14 observation of St. Valentine’s Day. That set the tone, some believe, for the day’s forthcoming tradition of exchanging “love messages,” perhaps in remembrance of St. Valentine’s farewell letter.
The Romans are also credited with constructing the idea of Cupid — a god of love often depicted with arrows that, as the legend goes, inflict love upon those who are hit by them. The Roman version of Cupid was adapted from Eros, a god of passion and fertility in Greek mythology. It seems that no one is quite sure when cupid became associated with Valentine’s Day, but the fact that both have origins in ancient Roman culture suggests that there may have been some very early overlap between the two.
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