Friday, June 10, 2011

Religio et Pietas

Felicitas. Today begins the festival of Vestalia, which will last through 15 June. In ancient times it meant that the inner sanctum of the House of Vesta would be opened to the matrons of Rome. They were led by the Flamenica Dialis who was the wife of the high priest of Jupiter. Normally throughout the year she would be adorned in the manner of a bride, veiled and with a special hairstyle for marriage.  But during this festival she would wear her hair down as though in mourning. She was not allowed to cut her hair or trim her nails at this time, nor would she have intercourse with her husband. I would assume the same was true of all the matrons who attended, because this festival was conducted as an annual cleaning of this edifice.  Meanwhile, for other women, no marriages could take place. For us today Vestalia is a good place the begin examining the role of women in the religio Romana.

Vesta is Goddess of the eternal divine fire. In the home She is represented by the hearth fire and in ancient Rome the fire maintained by the Vestal Virgins in Her temple was regarded as the most sacred place in the City as though it were the hearth of  Rome. The House of Vesta was said to have been first founded by Numa Pompilius. While he was king, Numa performed the most important religious rites for the City, duties which were later turned over to the flamen Dialis and to the pontifex maximus.

More at Patheos

Other Links:

  1. Exporting Roman Religion
  2. Cicero's Minerva, Penates, and the Mother of the Lares: An Outline of Roman Domestic Religion
  3. Law, Religion, and Constitution of the Vestal Virgins