He was put there by Pope Gesalius in 493; Gesalius, like all church fathers, never missed a chance to convert a pagan holiday into a Christian one, so he banned Lupercalia and made it a saints’ day. It was Geoffrey Chaucer who gave it a romantic aura with his Parliament of Fowles in the 14th century.
But Lupercalia, a very ancient Roman ritual that involved sacrifices to Pan, cleansing and fertility rituals, had been celebrated for centuries, probably beginning with the Etruscans.
It was a holiday in particular for shepherds and began with the blood sacrifice of two goats and a dog and the marking of two young acolytes with sacrificial blood, which was then washed off with milk – “after which they were expected to smile and laugh.”
They were the followers of Lupercus, an ancient pagan god reminiscent of Faunus, the Roman version of Pan, the antic spirit who was half man, half goat.
Which explains why all the shepherds then ran through the streets of Rome in goatskins, using special whips to strike the women who lined the way – to be struck on the neck by the Luperci was a magical gesture thought to ease pregnancy or make them fertile.
The whole thing was so outrageously pagan that Gesalius didn’t even try to incorporate any bits of it into Christian ritual – he just proscribed it altogether.
Lupercalia was referred to as the februa – ‘cleansing’ in Latin – festival and eventually that part of the year became February.
So there you are. We’re in the cleansing season and goat cheese should be the traditional gift, but it seems unlikely to replace chocolates.
N.B. I would like to credit the photographer who took the utterly fabulous goat picture, but I can’t find a name – it came from this website, but the specific page won’t open.