It’s all very confusing. Lupercalia was a pagan Roman festival which persisted into Christian times (Pope Gelasius banned it in 496 AD), but the origins and meaning are obscure. In very early Roman times it may have been imported from Greece, where there was an ancient secret ceremony called the Lykaia, based on the legend of King Lykaon, who tested the divine powers of Zeus by serving him a dish of a slaughtered and dismembered child. Zeus, being a God, instantly recognised the unapproved contents of the meal, and punished Lykaon by transforming him into a wolf.
The Lykaia ceremony, since it was secret, was not recorded except as rumours about its content and practice. Plato said that a meal was taken to which one small piece of human flesh was added; whoever got this morsel was turned into a werewolf. In later times, the wolf transformation was linked to the powers of the God Pan in a wolf form. Romans considered their God Lupercus to be one of the equivalents of Pan, and thus the festival of Lupercalia may have inherited some of the ideas from the Greek Lykaia.
However, the Roman city had been founded by Romulus and Remus who had been fostered by a she-wolf, the Lupa, and the festival also had elements to commemorate this. The Lupercal was the cave were the twins had been brought up by their furry mother, and it was the focus of the ceremonies. A goat and a dog were sacrificed and their skin cut into bloody thongs, and young men and boys ran naked through the city, striking at bystanders with them. You can see why the Christians wouldn’t have been keen on it in later centuries.
Being struck at by one of the runners was considered lucky in terms of fertility for women. Shakespeare mentions this idea in Julius Ceasar, where JC asks Mark Antony during the run to take a swipe at Calpurnia, Ceasar’s wife, to cure her infertility. Historically, the real Mark Antony did actually take part in the Lupercalia naked fun run. A number of European countries still have traditions of whipping or spanking young women for fertility, although the date is now Easter Monday.
Pope Gelasius needed to come up with a replacement Christian festival to lure the citizens away from the Lupercalia. He picked St. Valentine, even though nobody remembered who he was or what he’d done to be considered a saint. In the Pope’s own words, Valentine was one of those “… whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.”
It was actually another nine hundred years before stories linked St. Valentine to romance or made him a patron of lovers. Chaucer’s ‘Parliament of Birds’ of about 1380 is the first known written mention: “For this was sent on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.” Printed cards for St. Valentine’s Day go back to the 1700s, although the Victorian invention of the Penny Post caused the numbers sent to increase greatly.
Anyway, that’s the choice: send a card or run around naked. I know which it’s going to be for me.