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The Lupercalia was an annual Roman festival held on February 15 to honour Faunus, god of fertility and forests. Faunus was also called Lupercus, the one who wards off the wolf. The festival was celebrated near the cave of Lupercal on the Palatine (one of the seven Roman hills), to expiate and purify new life in the Spring. This festival's origins are older than the founding of Rome.

The religious ceremonies were directed by the Luperci, the "brothers of the wolf", priests of Faunus, dressed only in a goatskin. During Lupercalia, a dog and two male goats were sacrificed. Two youths were anointed with the blood and afterwards ran round the Palatine Hill with thongs cut from the sacrificed goats in their hands. These were called Februa. Girls would line up on their route to receive lashes from these whips. This was supposed to ensure fertility. The name of the month of February is derived from the Latin februare, "to purify" (meant as one of the effects of fever, which has the same linguistic root).

In 494, the Lupercalia was replaced by Candlemas, the feast of the Purification of the Virgin.

See also: Roman festivalsRoman mythology

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