Vestal ceremony - Ludi Conditorum 2761 AUC (Nova Roma)
Vestal Ceremony 2761 a.U.c.
Salvete, omnes Novi Romani!
As the sun set here in Rome - and what a magnificent sunset it was - the time came for the Relighting of the Fire Ritual.
The preparation for this important ritual began well before sunset, when the Sacred Fire was allowed to go out. I timed it carefully as I stopped feeding the flames in the mid-afternoon. Gradually, the Sacred Fire dwindled as I made continuous prayers to Vesta to avert all evil from Rome during the interval when the Sacred Hearth would be devoid of Her Presence. I did not extinguish the fire, but waited patiently until Vesta decided when the last flame should die and the last ember should dim into darkness.
I had to let the Sacred Hearth cool enough so I could begin the laborious task of cleaning it out thoroughly using only water from our Sacred Spring. Every bit of ash and soot was removed and the Sacred Hearth was dried and made ready to receive the Goddess once more.
By the Sacred Hearth, I placed a small table upon which rested a silver dish containing the Mola Salsa, a small silver bowl holding one bay laurel leaf and several leaves of thyme and a small bronze bowl filled with pieces of pinewood. Some of these pieces I placed in the center of the Sacred Hearth.
I left the Temple of Vesta and went to the garden of the Atrium Vestae and there I waited as dusk came upon Rome. In the last light of day, I prepared to start the new fire, which was made a tad more challenging as I had to make the fire within the confines of a very large, but mostly flat, bronze bowl, which is used only for this purpose.
I lifted a copper dish holding small pieces of pinewood and a copper bowl holding pine needles, which I had made sure were clean of all resin. I raised them upward and prayed, "Most Ancient One, may You be pleased with this wood and kindling that I now use to relight Your Sacred Fire."
I placed the dish and bowl next to the larger bronze bowl, which contained only two pieces of carefully selected pinewood to be used as the starter pieces. I stretched out my hands over the bronze bowl with palms downward and prayed, "Virgin Mother of Fire, may the work of my hands give You honor. Make Your Presence known in the new fire which, by Your Will, I now create."
Fortunately, after a few minutes of rubbing one stick very quickly between my palms while applying the right amount of pressure against the second piece of the starter wood, a wisp of smoke rose up. Gently, I blew at the base of the emerging fire while quickly adding the dry pine needles. A little orange glow quickly became visible inside the bowl. I then carefully added some of the small pieces of pinewood at just the right angles. The Sacred Fire crackled and spurted, but then it quieted down and burned well, praise Vesta!
The time came to go to the Temple. Before sunset, many women had crowded into the Temple of Vesta and were waiting patiently inside for my arrival. They stood motionless in the growing darkness, for the Temple has no windows and no torches are allowed inside and the only light came from the open door.
The Pontifices came to accompany me to the Temple. I saw Flavius Galerius Aurelianus, Marcus Moravius Piscinus and Quintus Caecilius Metellus, but not Gnaeus Salvius Astur. Sadly, he could not be with us and he was missed.
I wrapped a thick, damp cloth around the bronze bowl that contained the Sacred Fire and with the utmost care, I carried it the short distance to the Temple. There was no wind or breeze and the flames did not flicker. The Sacred Fire burned undisturbed. That was a good sign!
I came to the steps of the Temple and there my two dear friends, Aula Tullia Scholastica and Diana Octavia Aventina, awaited me. These kind women accompanied me up the steps, one on either side of me, and as they did, they gently lifted my stola up just enough so that I did not stumble on my way up as I carried the bowl, with the Sacred Fire inside, before me.
The Temple was filled to capacity, but the women had thoughtfully left an open path for me from the door to the Sacred Hearth. I stood before the threshold and the light from the Sacred Fire illuminated the faces of the women nearest the door. They smiled with joy at the sight of Vesta returning to Her Temple.
Before entering, I said to all present, "Vesta is the Heart of Rome, Mistress of the Hearth, the Sacred Flame present in every fire. She demands the greatest of respect, for a candle left unattended, a fire poorly lit, a firepit not properly kept, an uncleaned hearth - these are to be avoided. The perpetual flame in the Sacred Hearth of the Temple of Vesta represents the center of life in our city, our nation and our world. Her Fire makes sacred whatever place She dwells in and Her Presence can only be seen in the flame and felt in its warmth."
With the right foot first, I stepped over the threshold and entered the Temple with Scholastica and Aventina behind me. As the entrance faces east, once I reached the hearth, I circled around to the other side, so I faced east as well.
I raised the bronze bowl upward and prayed, "Great Mother of the Hearth, You Who hold power over all hearths and altars, look favorably upon Your Sacred Hearth now cleansed and prepared to receive Your Sacred Presence."
Slowly, I tilted the bowl slightly forward to let the Sacred Fire come to rest on the pinewood in the center. The Sacred Fire suddenly burned evern more brightly. I knew at once Vesta was happy to be home. A joyous murmur went up from the women as the orange-yellow flames made shadows dance against the Temple's walls.
I handed the empty bronze bowl to priestess, Aventina. Then I raised my hands, palms upwards, and prayed, "Mighty yet gentle Vesta, be always present in Your Eternal Flame here in Your Sacred Hearth, where all come to pay You honor."
I took the bay laurel leaf and the thyme leaves and added them to the Sacred Fire as I prayed, "Guardian of the innermost things, everlasting Heart of Rome, Your Flame burns bright in Your Temple once more, for You are the Fire of Life that dwells within everything."
I took one of the Mola Salsa cakes and crumbled it in my hands. Then I sprinkled it over the fire as I prayed, "May this our sacrifice please You, Mother Vesta, and may You always be inclined towards our well-being."
I looked out at all who were present in the Temple and announced to them, "She whose Sacred Name seals oaths and who commands that Her priestesses speak nothing but the truth, is present once more in the Sacred Hearth of Her Holy Temple. Give honor to Vesta, all of Rome, for She is your Protectress!"
I distributed the rest of the Mola Salsa to the women as they approached, each in turn, the Sacred Hearth to make their silent supplications to Vesta. With the ritual thus concluded, everyone left the Temple of Vesta happy and content.
Maxima Valeria Messallina
"Nihil apud Romanos Templo Vestae sanctius habetur."
"Among the Romans nothing is held more holy than the Temple of Vesta."