Mola salsa

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"Mola" means "mill", "millstone", and by extension, "flour". "Salsa" is the matching form of the adjective "salsus" meaning "salted". So mola salsa means "salted flour".

The Vestals made a sacred cake known as mola salsa, which was used many festivals, such as Vestalia, Epulum Iovis and Lupercalia.


History of the mola salsa

It was first introduced into Rome by the Sabine king, Numa, as a propitiation to the gods. It was looked upon as a bloodless sacrifice and performed at religious weddings when a pig was not offered.

It was Numa who first established the custom of offering grain to the gods, and of propitiating with the salted cake. Ovid, in his Fasti, says the atoning sacrifices (piamina) were called Februa, and the parched spelt, with the grain of salt, was also called Februa, and that it also gave its name to the second month.

These cakes were sprinkled over the head of the animal sacrificed by crumbling them into tiny pieces. The Latin word, "immolare," originally from "mola," meant to sprinkle the victim for sacrifice, hence we get the English word to "immolate." The mola salsa was made from spelt, a sort of rough wheat still grown in the more mountainous districts of Europe. Some sources say that on February 15th, the three elder Vestal Virgins gathered the first ears of each harvest for use in making their sacred cake. Other sources claim it was done from May 7th through May 15th.

Making mola salsa

Salt was used for purification, and also for making mola salsa, a purified cake made with a mixture of spelt flour, water and salt. The cakes can be burned in the turibulum as an offering to the gods.

To make mola salsa, the Vestals first fetched water from a sacred spring making sure that all the way back to the temple they did not set down the container they fetched the water in. The salt from the salinum was specially prepared. The remains of the salt mill used for this purpose is still to be seen in the house of the Vestals. The spelt was roasted in ovens or parched. It was then mixed with the specially prepared salt and the carefully fetched water and formed into thin, wafer-like cakes.

According to Modia Lupa, former Vestal of Nova Roma, the preparation of mola salsa is done by grounding with mortar and pestle the spelt and then roasting it. A bit of salt is added and you can use it either in its powdered form or add a tiny bit of water and make a soft dough. Roll out small pieces of the dough into very thin small flat cakes and bake them. It really is best though stored in its powdered form, baking a small amount however often you may need cakes for offerings.

Today, the closest example of this type of "bread" is the large, round flat wafer used by the Roman Catholic Church in the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. It is, in fact, the sacred cake of the Vestals - the mola salsa.

Uses of mola salsa

Mola salsa was offered to Vesta both at home lararia and also by the Vestal Virgins on behalf of Rome itself.

The sprinkling of mola salsa on sacrificial victims gives us the word immolatus. According to Rich:

Proprement, saupoudré de farine (mola salsa) ; se dit d'une victime destinée au sacrifice : c'était une des cérémonies habituelles avant de l'égorger (Cato, ap. Serv. ad Virg. Aen. X, 541) ; de là ce mot a été employé dans le sens moins spécial d'immolé ou égorgé en sacrifice (Hor. Od. IV, 11, 7). [1]



  1. Rich, Anthony. 1883. Dictionnaire des Antiquites Romaines et Grecques, (3e ed.)

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