Valentine’s Day began as a pagan Roman fertility rite around the third century BCE and was transformed by the Catholic Church and the gift-card industry into a day to celebrate love and friendship. Lupercalia, or ‘Wolf Festival’, was a Roman bacchanal celebrated on 15 February. A goat and dog were sacrificed and young women were lashed with strips of bloody animal skin to impart fertility.
According to legend, single men and women put their names in an urn and were paired up for the duration of the festival. St Valentine was a third-century priest who performed secret wedding ceremonies in Rome and was martyred on 14 February.
Pope Gelasius created St Valentine’s Day in the fifth century, possibly to whitewash the existence of Lupercalia. Still, ‘romance’ was in the air and the first Valentine’s poems and letters appeared in the Middle Ages. Today, Valentine’s Day cards and gifts have grown into an £11 billion ($18 billion) industry.