Celebrated in February, the roman month of purification, the origins of the Lupercalia are obscure. Centred on the Palatine Hill in Rome, the rites included a race between two naked youths who struck spectators to ensure their fertility.
The Rite of the Lupercalia
The Lupercalia was ancient and obscure. It was celebrated on the 15th February in the city of Rome.
The rite began in the lupercal, a cave at the base of the palatine. A goat and dog were sacrificed and two naked youths, known as the luperci, were anointed with the blood. They would give a ritual laugh before the blood was wiped away with milk soaked wool.
The youths were then required to run around the hill, wearing only girdles made from the skin of the sacrificed goat. The remained of the goat’s skins was used as straps which the luperci carried with them on their run. They used these to strike female bystanders.
The festival was celebrated in Rome until 494AD when it was banned by Pope Gelasius I. From that date onwards, the day of the lupercalia was used to celebrate the feast of the purification of the virgin.