Did You Know? Saint Valentine's Day Originated in Greece With The Arcadian Lykaia and the Lupercalia

 "Cupid and Psych" Fredrich Paul Thumann 1834-1908
 "Cupid and Psych"
Fredrich Paul Thumann

I knew it!

If I searched long and hard enough, I would find the Greek connection to Saint Valentine’s Day, there’s a Greek connection to everything!

I’m going to sound like Toula’s dad, Gus Portokalos, now, in the brilliant film;

 “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”;

“Did you know?”

Well, did you?

Not only is there a Greek connection to St. Valentine’s Day, according to some sources, the Greeks invented it, thousands of years ago, in Arcadia, Peloponnese, Greece.

Arcadia, The Peloponnese, Greece
Arcadia, The Peloponnese, Greece

Back then, in ancient Greece, at the beginning of  spring, among the mythical green meadows of Arcadia, where the God of the wild, shepherds and flocks, nature, and rustic music, Pan (Faunus in Latin), frolicked with the nymphs, wooing them with his magical pipe, there was held a festival, a ritual of spring cleaning.

Have a look here to learn more about Pan’s antics with the Arcadian Nymphs.

This festival, held around the fifteenth of February, to honour Pan, on the day he founded his temple, was called The Festival of the Arcadian Lykaia,( In Latin, the “Lupercalia”, Greek Lukos-wolf, Latin Lupus-wolf), when the city was cleansed  of evil spirits, and people’s souls were purified, bringing health and fertility.

The Lupercalian Festival in Rome  (ca. 1578–1610), drawing by the circle of Adam Elsheimer.
The Lupercalian Festival in Rome
 (ca. 1578–1610), drawing by the circle of Adam Elsheimer.

The Arcadian Lykaia, was celebrated on the slopes of Mount Lykaion, “Wolf Mountain”, the highest mountain in Arcadia.

Mount Lykaion Arcadia Greece
Mount Lykaion
Arcadia Greece

In his works, the great Greek Philosopher, Plutarch, refers to the “Lupercalia":

 “Lupercalia, of which many write that it was anciently celebrated by shepherds, and has also some connection with the Arcadian Lycaea. At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.”

Some sources claim this ancient Greek ritual, is actually Roman, and  was celebrated, on the same date, February fifteenth, as the ”Lupercalian” or “Lupercus”, either in honour to Lupa, the she – wolf, who suckled the orphans, Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, or, as in ancient Greece, a ritual cleansing of the soul.

Romulus and Remus nursed by the she-wolf The Capitoline She wolf, Roman statue(bronze) 5th century BC, Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome.
Romulus and Remus nursed by the she-wolf
The Capitoline She wolf, Roman statue(bronze) 5th century BC, Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome.

The Romans also called the “Lupercalian” festival, “Februa” or “Februarius”, whence derives the name of the month February.

As to whether the Arcadian Lykaia, originated in Ancient Greece or Rome, I have to go with the Greeks, they were first at everything!

The following myth cinches it for me:

Euandros, son of Hermes, took a multitude of ancient Greeks, from Pallantion, in Arcadia, to Rome, where they built the town of Pallantion on the Palatine and introduced the cult of Pan Lykaios, and held The Festival of Arcadia Lykaia, which later became the Roman festival “Lupercalian”

As often happened, when Christianity reared its head, many pagan festivals were renamed, usually after saints, and so, in 496 AD, Pope Gelasius, so it is said, outlawed this pagan festival of “Lupercalian”, renaming it The Feast of Saint Valentine, to be celebrated on the fourteenth of February, not the fifteenth.

Saint Valentine's Day February 14
Saint Valentine's Day February 14

Another story goes, that in the eighteenth century, antiquarians, and Roman Catholic priests, Alban Butler and Francis Douce, noticed that there was not much ado about Saint Valentine, and so suggested the “Lupercalian” become The Feast Day of Saint Valentine.

This time, I’ll go with the Romans, as to who renamed the “Lupercalian”, Saint Valentine’s Day!

Although The Greek Orthodox Church does not recognize Saint Valentine, people named Valentinos, or, the female, Valentina, do celebrate their Name Day on the fourteenth of February.

Who is the real Saint Valentine?

Saint Valentine of Terni and his disciples
Saint Valentine of Terni and his disciples

This is a difficult question, not much at all is known about St. Valentine, so little, that in 1969, The Roman Catholic Church removed St. Valentine from the General Roman Calendar, but, still recognized him as a saint.

 In fact, there are quite a few St. Valentines, another eleven are celebrated in the Catholic Church, but, only seven of them died on the fourteenth of February, the day they are celebrated.

The most popular St. Valentine, derived from the Latin word “Vale” or “Valens”, meaning worthy, was a priest from Rome, the former Bishop of Terni, in Umbria, central Italy, who, in 280 AD,(Or 269, 270 or 273, depending on source!) was beheaded, on the fourteenth of February, by the Emperor Claudius II, for refusing to deny Christ.

bronze busts of Claudius II
The first one of the two twin bronze busts of Claudius II "the Gothic" (268/269 d.C.). The gilded bronze portraits, five of Roman emperors and one of an empress, were hidden beneath the Capitoline temple in Brescia, together with other bronze objects, to prevent the consequences of a possible sack of the town in the 4th or 5th century, and unearthed only in 1826. They are now exhibited in the archaeological Santa Giulia Museum, in Brescia, Italy.
Some of Valentine’s other crimes, according to Emperor Claudius II, were, refusing to sacrifice to Pagan Gods, helping Christians who were being persecuted, and marrying Christians.

Saint Valentine
Saint Valentine

Legend has it, that St. Valentine, before having his head chopped off, outside the Flaminian Gate, now the Porta del Popolo, Piazza del Popolo, Rome, restored the sight and hearing of his jailer’s daughter, and left her a note, signed “Your Valentine”

After losing his head, St. Valentine was buried in the cemetery on the Via Flaminia, an ancient Roman road that crosses the Apennines, to Rimini, on the Adriatic coast.

Saint Valentine’s relics

Where relics are concerned, it seems Saints had more arms, legs and skulls, than your common or garden human being, Saint Valentine was no different, parts of him are to be found all over Europe.


The Greek connection again,1907 the relics of Saint Valentine, a gift from an Italian priest, found their way to  Mytilene, capitol of the Greek island of Lesbos, and are housed in the  Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady

The relics of Saint Valentine remained there until 1990, until they were taken to Athens, to the church of Saints Francis and Clara of the Italian community.

 In 2014, they were returned to Mytilene.


Relics of St. Valentine are kept in St, Anthony’s church, Madrid, a present from the Pope to King Charles IV, and have been displayed publicly since 1984


Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church, Dublin where the relics of Saint Valentine lie.
Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church, Dublin,
 where the relics of Saint Valentine lie.

In Dublin, relics, exhumed from the catacombs of St. Hippolytus, on Via Tiburtina, Rome, were given to an Irish priest’ John Spratt, a famous preacher, as tokens of esteem following a sermon he gave in Rome.

The relics are housed I the Whitefriar Street Chapel, Dublin.

Czech Republic
Another relic of St. Valentine was found in 2003, in the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, Prague.


In the Church of St. Mary Assumption, in Chelmo, Poland,


A silver reliquary, containing a fragment of St. Valentine’s skull,
is to be found in Roquemaure, Gard , Southern France.


Relics of St Valentine are kept in St Stephen’s Church, Vienna.


Saint Valentine relic, Basilica of Saint Mary in Cosmedin, Rome, Italy.
Saint Valentine relic, Basilica of Saint Mary in Cosmedin, Rome, Italy.

The flower-adorned skull of St Valentine can be found in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome.


Relics of St. Valentine are also in the Blessed John Dun Scotus church in the Gorbals area, Glasgow.


 Birmingham Oratory holds a gold reliquary, inscribed with the words “Corpus Saint Valentine M” (Body of Saint Valentine Martyr).

La Fete du Baiser (Festival of the kiss

In Roquemaure, Southern France, on the Saturday after St. Valentine’s Day, a tradition, begun by Father Rene Durieau in 1989, celebrates the arrival, in 1868, of the relics of St. Valentine.

The relics are said to have been be bought in Rome, by a former local, in the hope they would cure the diseased grape vines, (which, within four years, is what happened).

 Men dress as women,  the women as priests, and spend the day kissing each other.
Today, Roquemaure is home to a winery, “Cellar St. Valentine”, which produces wine of the same name.

The Valentine’s key, Padua, Italy.

The interior of  the Oratorio di San Giorgio,, Padua, Italy Photo by Sailko
The interior of  the Oratorio di San Giorgio,, Padua, Italy
Photo by Sailko

On the fourteenth of February, at the Oratorio di San Giorgio Chapel, Moncelice, Padua, a St. Valentine’s ceremony is held, where small, gold key charms are handed out to children.

These key charms, called Valentine keys, are said to ward of epilepsy, as St. Valentine, as well as being the Patron Saint of Lovers and marriage, is also the Patron Saint of epilepsy, also known, for this reason, as St. Valentine’s affliction.

The key charms are also a romantic symbol, as an invitation, to unlock the giver’s heart.

Sailor’s Valentine

Sailor’s Valentine’s are works of art, usually hexagonal, glass–fronted, hinged wooden boxes, decorated with symmetrical patterns, created entirely from sea shells.

The tradition seems to have originated somewhere between 1830 and 1890, in Barbados, an important sea port at the time, where most were bought in “The new Curiosity Shop”, located on McGregor Street, Bridgetown.

These exquisite boxes were bought by sailors, when away on voyages, to be taken home to their loved ones.

How I would love to be given one of these amazing trinkets, no wonder all the nice girls love a sailor!

Sailor's Valentine
Sailor's Valentine

Modern St. Valentine’s Day customs and traditions

Since the fourteenth century, in medieval Europe, St. Valentine’s Day has been associated with “Courtly love”, the stuff of medieval, literary fiction; stories about chivalry, nobility, and Knights in shining armour, rescuing damsels in distress.

“The father of English literature” Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400) played a great part in associating the fourteenth of February with romantic love, with his work
“Parlement of Foules” (Also known as “The Parlement of Birds”) a poem made up of approximately 700 lines, and contains the first reference to the idea that St. Valentine's Day is a special day for lovers.

In the Middle Ages, it was believed birds mated in mid-February, and so, birds became symbols of romance, and were linked to St. Valentine’s Day.

Love Birds Doves
Love Birds

In 1797, a British publisher issued “The Young Man’s Valentine Writer”, soppy, sentimental verses, for young men, with their brains so addled by love; they were incapable of writing their own!

Printers were, by now, were churning out cards and verses and “Mechanical Valentine’s”, paper Valentine’s with moving parts, while factories assembled cards made with real lace and ribbon, until paper lace was introduced in the mid nineteenth century.

Victorian Valentine's card with real lace
Victorian Valentine's card with real lace

In 1835, despite expensive postage, sixty thousand Valentine’s were sent by post in Britain, and, with the invention of postage stamps, the Penny Black, in 1840,  and reduced postal rates, the number soared to four hundred thousand.

The postal system allowed Valentine's to be sent anonymously, and is also held responsible, for the emergence of cheeky verses, in the then straight-laced Victorian England.

Victorian Valentine's Card
Victorian Valentine's Card

The author, Charles Dickens, referred to the production of Valentine's cards as; “Cupid’s manufacturer”, owing to the fact that three thousand women were employed in manufacturing the cards.

Today, in Britain, half the population spends money on Valentine’s; in 2015 one point nine billion pounds were spent on cards, flowers, chocolates and other Valentine gifts.

Victorian Valentine's card
Victorian Valentine's card

Have you bought your Valentine’s card yet? Will you be eagerly awaiting the postman on Valentine’s Day?

Oh the anguish of waiting for the postman on Valentine’s Day when I was a teenager, and the absolute shame if you didn’t receive one!

I wonder if MGG (My Greek God) will remember me.

Oh, of course he will, he’s Greek, and Greece is where it all started!

Want to learn more Greek magical mysteries? Look no further than Amazon:

Greek Mythology

See Also:

Dionysia: Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll, the Original Greek Carnival

Apokries carnival time, go mad in Greece!

Meraki: Greek Word of the day; Doing it with love, passion and a lot of soul;

Meraki:  Doing things with love, passion and a lot of soul. Greek ranks as the richest language in the world; Europe’s oldest, with f...

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