By Peter Sherwood
A day for lovers, Valentine’s Day started out with pagan rituals, imprisonment, torture and death. Here are 10 things you need to know
It all started in pre-Christian Rome around February 14 at the pagan festival of Lupercalia, when young studs would go around naked with animal-skin whips spanking nubile female backsides to improve their fertility. Think of it as an early Fifty Shades of Grey.
Next up, on February 14 AD197, Valentine of Terni was imprisoned, tortured and beheaded for his Christianity, by order of a Roman prefect named Placid Furius.
A century later another unlucky Christian, Valentine of Rome was imprisoned and martyred. In the months leading up to his death on February 14, he fell in love with his jailer’s daughter, sending her a note ‘From your Valentine.’
These stories must have entered the popular imagination because a couple of hundred years down the road, Pope Gelasius declared February 14, St Valentine’s Day – a Christian feast to compete with Lupercalia.
Around 1415, in keeping with the long tradition of this special day, Charles, the French Duke of Orleans, wrote the first recorded Valentine’s note to his beloved, while locked up in the Tower of London.
Medieval French bureaucracy soon got in on the act, opening the so called High Court of Love on February 14, to deal with matters of the heart (and spousal abuse).
And what would the day be without Shakespeare? Ophelia laments in Hamlet: “Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s Day/ All in the morning betime/ And I a girl at your window/ To be your Valentine.” Then, at the end of Act IV, she tops herself.
Fast forward to 1929 Chicago. In the St Valentine’s Day massacre on February 14, seven men associated with gangster Al Capone’s long-time enemies were shot to death.
The machinery of American super-hype rolled into gear in the early 20th century, when Hallmark Cards produced its first syrupy sweet Valentine’s Day card. In the US alone,Valentine’s Day now generates a whopping US$18 billion.
On a happier note, Alexander Fleming had his eureka moment with the discovery of penicillin on February 14, 192