Virgo Vestalis

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Virgo Vestalis

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Rex sacrorum
Virgo Vestalis

Roman Religion Overview

For Virgines Vestales in Nova Roma, see: Priests (Nova Roma).

Vestal Virgins (Lat. Virgines Vestales) were priestesses of Vesta. They tended the sacred fire in the Temple of Vesta in Rome.

See also: mola salsa, spelt cake.

Festivals in which the Vestals participated

The following list was complied by Chief Vestal Valeria Messallina, using information taken from "The History of the Vestal Virgins" by Sir T. Cato Worsford, 1934 ed. and the "Dictionary of Roman Religion" by Lesley Adkins and Roy A. Adkins, 1996 ed.

Date Feriae Role of the Vestals
February 13 Parentatio Worship of the dead at the Tomb of the Vestal, Tarpeia.
February 15 Lupercalia During this festival, the last of the mola salsa was used. Lupercalia involved purification and fertility rites. It was originally a shepherd festival in honor of Lupercus, a pastoral god, to ensure fertility of fields and flocks. The festival was very ancient and the Romans themselves were unsure which God was being worshiped. Lupercus seems to have been invented in the Augustan period to account for the rituals. Ancient authors cited Inuus or Faunus (both identified with Pan) as the god of Lupercalia. Worshipers gathered at a sacred cave called the Lupercal at the foot of the Palatine Hill, where Romulus and Remus were supposed to have been suckled by a she-wolf. The priest called Luperci sacrificed goats and a dog and there was an offering of Mola Salsa, the Vestals' sacred cakes. The Luperci clothed themselves with parts of the skins of the goats and ran with some of the magistrates through Rome's streets striking everyone they met with strips of skin from the goats (februa) to make them fertile. The festival involved much revelry and was very popular. Consequently the early Church could not abolish it and so in 494 C.E. the Pope made February 15th the Festival of the Purification of the Virgin Mary.
February 17 Fornacalia In honor of Fornax, Goddess of ovens, that the baking of the spelt might be successful.
March 1 The sacred fire was re-kindled in the Temple of Vesta. The eternal flame in her temple represented the Goddess, who was not portrayed by statues in the temple, although Augustus dedicated an altar and statue to Vesta on the Palatine Hill in part of his house in 12 B.C.E. The flame in the temple was rekindled every year in a special ritual by rubbing two sticks together. If the fire went out, it had to be rekindled in the same way.
March 6 Sacrifice to Vesta.
March 14 (Ides) A procession carrying argei round the shrines took place, probably counterwise. The procession included the Flamen Dialis, Flaminica, Vestal Virgins and the praetor urbanus. The procession culminated at the river Tiber, when 30 (or 27) effigies were thrown into the river by the Vestal Virgins from the Bridge of Sublicius. The Romans did not even know which deity was being honored or appeased in these rituals involving argei.
March 16-17 Visit to sacra Argeorum (the 24 places consecrated by Numa for religious services).
April 15 Fordicidia It was an agricultural festival of Tellus. A pregnant cow (forda) was sacrificed to Tellus in each of the 30 wards (curiae) of Rome and one of the Capitoline Hill to promote fertility of cattle and the fields. The unborn calves were burned by the Chief Vestal and the ashes were used by the Vestal Virgins in a purification rite in the festival of Parilia.
April 21 Parilia Anniversary of the foundation of Rome. Parilia was the festival of Pales. It seems to be an ancient agricultural festival for the purification of sheep and shepards. It fell on what was regarded as the anniversary of Rome's foundation day. Sheep pens were cleaned and decorated with greenery, and the sheep were purified in smoke from a bonfire on which sulfur was burnt. Ashes from the calves burned in the festival of Fordicidia were sprinkled on the bonfire.
April 28 Anniversary of the foundation by Augustus of the Temple of Vesta on the Palatine.
May 1 Rites of the Bona Dea.
May 7 - 15 The three elder Vestal Virgins plucked the first ears of spelt for their sacramental cake, the Mola Salsa.
May 14 or 15 The Drowning of the Dummies. The Vestal Virgins throw the argei into the Tiber River from the Sublician Bridge. Argei were bundles of rushes resembling people bound hand and foot. These effigies or dolls were used in certain rituals and may have represented human sacrifice. Alternatively, the rituals may have been an act of purification from all the evils of the year which the argei personified as demons.
June 9 Festival of Vesta. The days before and after this festival were consecrated to Vesta. On June 7th, the inner sanctum of the temple in Rome was opened to all women; it was closed again on June 15th. It became a holiday for bakers and millers, and the millstones and asses used in milling were garlanded with violets and had small loaves hung on them. On June 15th, the refuse was swept from the temple to an alley halfway up the Capitoline Hill, from where it was carried to the Tiber River and thrown down from the Portia Stercoraria. The Vestals made Mola Salsa, which was also used in Epulum Iovis and Lupercalia
August 21 Festival of Consus, God of Counsel and the harvest. Consus was an ancient God of the granary who was probably connected with the harvest and autumn sowing. Originally, he may have been the God of grain stored underground. He had an underground barn and altar in the Circus Maximus which was only uncovered during his festival. He also had a temple on the Aventine Hill. His characteristic sacrificial offering consisted of first fruits. He had two festivals, the Consualia and a festival of Consus on December 12th. On July 7th, a sacrifice was offered to him at the underground altar. Consus was also associated with horses.
August 25 Festival of Ops Consiva, the Goddess of seed time.
September 13 Festival of Iupiter Epulum Iovis was a feast held for senators after the sacrifices at festivals of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. It was arranged by the Epulones on September 13th at the end of the Ludi Romani and November 13th as part of the Ludi Plebeii. Mola salsa was offered by the Vestal Virgins. May also have been in honor of Juno and Minerva.
October 15 Sacrifice of the October Horse The blood from the October horse sacrifice and that of the calves burnt in the Fordicidia were distributed to the shepherds for fumigating their flocks.
December 3-4 Rites of the Bona Dea.



    Adkins, Lesley and Roy A. Adkins, 1996. Dictionary of Roman Religion. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195142330

    Scheid, J., (2003) An Introduction to Roman Religion. (J. Lloyd trans.) Indiana University Press: Bloomington & Indianapolis. ISBN 0253216605

    Worsford, Sir T. Cato, 1934. The History of the Vestal Virgins. ISBN 0766100944

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