From the 7th – 15th June, the Romans celebrated the festival of VESTALIA to honour Vesta, the goddess of the hearth and home. Women celebrated the festivals with processions, ceremonies, sacrifices and cleaning / cleansing rituals. The temple of Vesta was guarded by the Vestales or the Vestal Virgins who served as Vesta’s priestesses. They swore thirty years of chastity and kept the fires burning eternally in her temple. If the Vestal Virgins were to fail to do either, they were buried alive or publicly flogged as punishment. The fires of Vesta were considered sacred. If the fire died out, it was considered a bad omen for the city of Rome.
In Roman mythology Vesta was the first-born of the Titans, daughter to Saturn and Ops (Kronos and Rhea in Greek mythology), and along with all her siblings except one, she was swallowed by her father Saturn (yes, as in eaten). It was prophesied that Saturn, now lord of earth, sea and sky would be overturned by one of his children (as he had overturned his own father), so he ate them when they were born just in case. Jupiter (Zeus in Greek mythology), Vesta’s youngest sibling was concealed by his mother at birth and so managed to escape their father’s voracious appetite. He grew into a fine and handsome young man away from his father and was later brought home by his mother to overturn his father and free his siblings from his father’s belly. Vesta was the last to be eaten and therefore and first to be released – so she was considered to be both the oldest and the youngest of the gods.
Her mesmerising beauty attracted the attention of both Neptune and Phoebus (Apollo in Greek mythology) who fought for her hand. Vesta rejected them both and begged Jupiter to allow her to remain forever a virgin. When he consented to this, Vesta was pleased and took care of his home and hearth, identifying her with domestic life and tranquillity. She thus became the Roman goddess of purity, hearth and home, considered as the guardian of the Roman people and her festival, Vestalia, was one of the most important Roman holidays.
The original eternal flame. Most commonly represented by the eternal flame in her temple, Vesta was among the Dii Consentes, twelve of the most honoured gods in the Roman Pantheon. Such was Vesta’s importance to Roman religion that hers was one of the last republican pagan cults still active following the rise of Christianity until it was forcibly disbanded by the Christian emperor Theodosiu in AD 391. Entry into her temple was permitted only to her priestesses, the Vestal Virgins, who tended the sacred fire at the hearth inside.
“The purity of Vesta’s flames symbolised the vital force that is the root of the life of the community. ”CICERO
Depicted as a good natured deity who never involved herself in the quarrelling common in the other gods, Vesta was ambiguous at times due to her contradictory association with both virginity and the phallus. She was not only the most virginal and pure of the gods, but she was associated with fertility and addressed as mother. The priestesses, or Vestal Virgins who tended to her temple took a 30 year vow of chastity in order to devote themselves to the study and correct observance of state rituals that were forbidden to the colleges of male priests. In exchange they were freed of the usual obligations to marry and bear children, thus gaining their independence. Ovid derived Vesta from Latin vi stando – “standing by power” and Cicero supposed that the Latin name Vesta derives from the Greek Hestia, which in turn derived from Greek hestanai dia pantos meaning “standing for ever”. Perhaps we should consider Vesta as a pioneer in feminist and trans-gender issues?
She was the muse for our Puritas fragrance. It has a graceful floral heart, with incense representing her eternal flame, with peppery top notes and a warm spicy base, evocative of home pleasures. Like its inspiration, Puritas has an eternal elegance, simplicity and a lightness of touch.
By Christian Provenzano
Inspired by Vesta, the Roman goddess of purity, home and hearth. Her purity of heart and promise of fertility were symbolised in the eternal flames burning in her temples. Like its inspiration this fragrance has an eternal elegance, appeal and a lightness of touch.
Did you know?
Vesta has been the muse of many, plus the namesake of Swan Vesta matches, (frequently nicknamed Vestas), and of the second largest asteroid in our solar system.
The Vestal virgins star in the 1967 global chart busting Whiter Shade of Pale by Procol Harem, here are some of the lyrics. Listen to it on Spotify.
She said, ‘There is no reason’
And the truth is plain to see
But I wandered through my playing cards
And would not let her be
One of sixteen vestal virgins
Who were leaving for the coast
And although my eyes were open
They might have just as well’ve been closed
And so it was that later
As the miller told his tale
That her face, at first just ghostly
Turned a whiter shade of pale