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Votive Relief dedicated to Vesta

Votive Relief dedicated to Vesta - Altes Museum

Votive Relief dedicated to Vesta

This Votive Relief dedicated to Vesta has an inscription that states that “the baker C. Pupius Firminus and his wife Mudasena Trophime dedicated this relief to the goddess Vesta.” This votive dedication was probably installed in a sacred place for primarily religious and sometimes social ritual purposes. Such items are a feature of modern and ancient societies and are generally made to gain favor. This Votive Relief was either made in anticipation of a particular wish or after the request has been fulfilled. The offering may also represent a gift to the deity, in general thanks and gratitude with a public ritual purpose.

Votive offerings have been described in the historical Roman and Greek eras. The tradition of votive offerings has been carried into Christianity in both the East and the West.

Vesta Goddess of the Hearth

Vesta is the virgin goddess of the hearth, home, and family in Roman religion. She was often represented by the fire of her temple in the Forum Romanum. Entry to her temple was permitted only to her priestesses, the Vestals, who tended the sacred fire. Her Greek equivalent is Hestia.

Vesta’s festival, the Vestalia (7–15 June), was one of the most important Roman holidays. During the festival, matrons walked barefoot through the city to the sanctuary of the goddess, where they presented offerings of food. Vesta was one of the last Roman pagan cults forcibly disbanded by the Christian emperor Theodosius I in AD 391.

“…we do not lend the hearth quite the importance that our ancestors did, Greek or otherwise. …The word ‘hearth’ shares its ancestry with ‘heart,’ just as the modern Greek for ‘hearth’ is kardia, which also means ‘heart.’ In Ancient Greece, the broader concept of hearth and home was expressed by the Oikos, which lives on for us today in economics and ecology. The Latin for hearth is focus – which speaks for itself. It is a strange and wonderful thing that out of the words for the fireplace, we have spun “cardiologist’, ‘deep focus’ and ‘eco-warrior.’ The essential meaning of centrality that connects them also reveals the great significance of the hearth to the Greeks and Romans, and consequently, the importance of Hestia, its presiding deity.”
― Stephen Fry, Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold


In historical usage, a hearth is a brick- or stone-lined fireplace used for heating and cooking food. For centuries, the hearth was such an integral part of a home, usually its central and most important feature, that the concept has been generalized to refer to a homeplace or household, as in the terms “hearth and home” and “keep the home fires burning.”

The word hearth derives from an Indo-European root, referring to burning, heat, and fire. In archaeology, a hearth is a firepit or other fireplace. Hearths are common features of many eras going back to prehistoric campsites, and may be either lined with a range of materials, such as stone or left unlined. They were used for cooking, heating, and the processing of some stone, wood, and other resources.

In Greek mythology, Hestia is the goddess of the hearth, while in Roman mythology, Vesta has the same role. In ancient Persia, according to Zoroastrian traditions, every house was expected to have a hearth for offering sacrifices and prayers.

Votive Offerings in Eastern Christianity

According to tradition, after Constantine the Great’s conversion and later victory at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, he donated one of the crosses he carried in the battle to the Church. This cross is reputed to be preserved on Mount Athos.

Orthodox Christians continue to make votive offerings to this day, often in the form of metal plaques symbolizing the subject of their prayers. Other offerings include candles, prosphora, wine, oil, or incense. Also, many will leave something of personal value, such as jewelry, a cross, or military decoration as a sign of devotion.

Votive Offerings in Roman Catholicism

In the Roman Catholic Church, offerings were made either to fulfill a vow made to God for deliverance or a thing left to a Church in gratitude for some favor. Today, votives can be lit votive candles, offered flowers, statues, vestments, and monetary donations. Traditional forms of votive offerings include small silver models of the afflicted part of the body. They can also be inscribed stone tablets, folk art paintings such as the votive paintings of Mexico, and model ships donated by sailors who have survived a dangerous voyage.

Many Catholic churches still have areas where such offerings are displayed. Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, Paris, shows over 10,000, with a military specialization, and including many military decorations given by their recipients. The Votive Church, Vienna, is a late example of many churches which are themselves votive offerings, in this case, built to give thanks for a narrow escape from assassination by Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria in 1853.

Votive Relief dedicated to Vesta

  • Title:             Votive Relief dedicated to Vesta
  • Date:            140 – 150 AD
  • Location:       Rome, Italy
  • Medium:       Marble
  • Type:             Marble Relief
  • Dimensions: 101 x 60 x 25 cm
  • Museum:      Altes Museum (German for Old Museum)

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“The essential meaning of centrality that connects them also reveals the great significance of the hearth to the Greeks and Romans, and consequently, the importance of Hestia, its presiding deity.”
– Stephen Fry, Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold


Photo Credit:  JOM

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