"A Vestal’s Insight", by Maria Silvana

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A Vestal’s Insight

Shared winning novel of the Certamen Petronianum II, by L. Maria Silvana

Vesta chooses the innocent to tend to her sacred flame and guard Rome.

A child doesn’t always know the great fortune she has or how favored she is by the gods when she is chosen by Vesta herself to serve. Such a high honor is difficult for a young girl just old enough to leave her mother but young enough to not yet know what it means to live as a woman. She will not truly understand how favored she is until she has lived enough reflect on her accomplishments and to see what her devotion has given the people.

The beginning is frightful. That fear of the unknown can be clearly seen in her eyes. Leaving one’s family to take a holy vow and join a priesthood of women in service to all of Rome is a terrifying responsibility. But behind the fright in those young eyes is excitement, wonder and adoration. Vesta chooses those girls whose hearts are pure and open.

As a young girl I too was afraid of what awaited me. I was afraid to leave my father’s home - the only home I had ever known for six years - for something so different. There was a spark of love and joy underneath all of that fear though.

My father, a pious and well respected man in his own right, took my hand and led me to see the Pontifex Maximus. I was inspected and questioned to see if I was worthy. A Vestal Virgin must be a virgin and free of any bodily deformities. She must be a true Roman girl as she is to serve Vesta of Rome and therefore all of Rome itself. But most importantly, she must come from the correct family consisting of a father and mother and must never have been emancipated from her father’s home prior to her induction into the priesthood. All of this was important to ensuring the safety of Rome. Of course, I never truly understood this at that time as I was just a young girl, but I still felt the importance of the situation.

The Pontifex Maximus might determine the Vestal candidates but it was the goddess herself who choose her priests by way of divination and a lottery.

Being chosen was an exciting time. I was pampered, bathed and dressed in new, clean robes. Then I was taken from my father’s lap, his home, as if taken away as a kidnapped bride. Only I was not to become a bride but a priest to serve all Roman homes.

Of course, as a child, none these specifications seemed overly important. My heart only truly changed when I walked through Vesta’s temple, Aedes Vestae, for the first time.

The moment I walked into the temple I felt my heart lifted up as a light as a feather. It was as if Vesta herself took a hold of my hands and lead me through her sacred halls as a mother would her child. The stone, marble and towering columns felt familiar as if I were born here. As if this was always my home.

I see it in the eyes of the young girls entering the temple for the first time in their lives. Their eyes are filled with the same adoration and love that I felt the first time I arrived at Aedes Vestae. They might not understand it now, though they certainly can feel it, but these young girls will grow to serve and love not just Vesta but all of Rome, and with that dedication will come great respect.

To serve Vesta is to serve Rome. Vesta’s hearth is the hearth of all of Rome and her people.

We are the walking symbols of a strong Rome.

A child doesn’t always know the great risk she has taken onto herself by walking the path of a Vestal Virgin. She risks death for a Vestal Virgin can only be punished by death carried out by clean hands. The inability to directly harm Vesta’s priests does not stop those who want her dead from finding other means to do so.

The death of the young Vestal girl, not at the command of Vesta but at the hands of men for selfish reasons, is still fresh in my mind. It lingers around the temple and still no one speaks about the tragedy except in hushed whispers.

There are greats risks that come with serving Rome in the way in which we do. And yet, I would never wish to change my position.

The new arrivals bring with them that childish wonder that has been missed and needed at the temple. The young girls with their eyes full of excitement and amazement bring a freshness to the priesthood like the first warm spring day after a long, cold winter.

I can see my experiences and feelings reflected in the eyes of the new Vestals. The new arrivals remind me of my youth and, even now, my heart is still as young and filled with adoration as it was once when I was a young girl. I watch these girls beginning their journey - the same journey I had taken some thirty years ago - and I can feel my heart flutter with join for them. They will come to know the great honor they have received and they will come to serve Vesta and all of Rome with love.

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