St Valentine was once a Pagan celebration of fertility in the ancient Roman Empire, and possibly even earlier.

For the Romans February was a time of the year to prepare for spring, considered the season to celebrate re-birth.

Purification rituals used to take place: houses were cleaned and salt and flour were spread around the homes.

Around mid-February celebrations called the 'Lupercalia' used to take place. The Lupercalia festival was partly in honour of 'Lupa', the she-wolf who suckled the infant orphans, Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.

Gods called 'Lupercali' were believed to keep wolves away from cultivated fields.

From the fourth century AD, Pagan Romans used to worship the god Lupercus.

Priests called 'Luperci' used to walk to the cave where, according to a legend, the 'Lupa' fed Romolus and Remus, holding ceremonies here.

BLOOD IN THE STREETS

The streets of Rome used to be stained with the blood of animals, as a sign of fertility, while another ritual consisted in a 'lottery of love', where the names of male and female Lupercus' worshippers were put in a jar.

Then a child used to extract the names of two candidates to nominate a couple that would live together for a whole year.

The Catholic Church was determined to end this tradition, so looked for a 'patron of lovers' to replace the immoral god Lupercus.

In 496AD, Pope Gelasius ended this Pagan celebration and introduced St Valentine, a bishop who had lived 400 years earlier. St Valentine was born in Terni, in central Italy, in 175AD, and was considered the protector of lovers.

A legend tells that he was the first Catholic authority to celebrate the union between a Pagan soldier and a young Catholic girl. The legend has two endings.

In one, when Emperor Aurelian ordered all Christians to be persecuted, Bishop Valentine was jailed and tortured along Via Flaminia, which runs through Rome.

Another version of the legend says that in 270AD, Valentine, then famous for having brought together a pagan and a Catholic, was invited by Emperor Claudius II to his palace.

Claudius II tried to convert him to Paganism, but Bishop Valentine tried instead to convert the Emperor to Catholicism.

On February 24, 270AD, Bishop Valentine was stoned to death and decapitated.

The legend also tells that when Valentine was in jail waiting for his execution, he fell in love with the blind daughter of the guardian of the jail, and that he performed a miracle on her, giving her sight.

Before dying, he left a love note for her ending it with 'from your Valentine,' a sentence that since then has become emblematic of love.