VESTA'S FLAME

For millennia, Vesta has been adored as the goddess of the home and hearth. Symbolized by an eternal flame, the ancient Romans believed she resided in their household hearth or candles. She protected the home and those in it, and the presence of her flame made each household a sacred space. At every meal, an offering of salted flour or a libation of olive oil, milk or wine was sprinkled into the sacred flame.

Happily, the Flamma Vesta, along with its traditions and rituals, has been renewed in today’s world to illuminate homes, ignite ancient awareness and provide a spiritual focus for modern life.

The Flame of Vesta

…or Flamma Vesta, was held sacred not just by private families, but by the state of Rome itself.  Vesta’s eternal flame burned in the heart of the beloved Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum, tended to by respected Vestal priestesses, also called Vestal Virgins, who were tasked with keeping it alight through the generations. The Vestals also spread the flame by giving embers from the Flamma Vesta to women and men to burn in their own homes, thus making each household a sacred space and a domestic Temple of Vesta. It was believed that if Vesta’s fire went out, so too would the Roman way of life – for the flame represented the soul of Rome as much as the soul of the individual. 

Vestals making an offering into the sacred flame.

Statue of a Veiled Vestal

Vesta burned brightly until her tradition was brutally suppressed by the first Christian emperors in the 4th century CE. Her worship was criminalized – even in the privacy of one’s own home – as the new cult of Christianity forcibly banished all other faiths.  Nonetheless, her flame continued to burn in secret, kept alight by those who quietly continued to practice their faith. They honored the Flamma Vesta in candlelight, passing it down through the generations and renewing it annually – every March 1st – according to ancient custom.

On March 1st of 1989, a woman – the
last in a long line of practicing Vestals –
visited the ruins of the Temple of Vesta in the
Roman Forum. She carried an old, hand-poured
beeswax candle that had been in her family for
generations. Devoted to keeping the “old ways”
alive, she gifted this Flamma Vesta candle to
a fellow visitor named Debra May Macleod.

Renewing the Flame

On March 1st of 2013, Debra Macleod re-lit and renewed the Vestal candle given to her over two decades previously.  She now re-lights and renews the candle’s flame every March 1st and creates derivative candles from the original. She also offers advice to those who prefer to create their own candles.

A leading author of Vesta-related books and a popular media resource, Debra respectfully works to educate the public on this important and ever-expanding tradition as it once again illuminates lives and homes.

The amber beeswax within this Vestal candle could be centuries old and has likely nourished the Flamma Vesta for generations, being moved from large to smaller vessels as the candle burns and melts.  The Vestal who chose to house the the sacred flame in this antique milk glass probably did so because its white drapery design resembles a Vestal’s robes.

Ancient History

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