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 favour. 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.
Vesta is the virgin goddess of the hearth, home, and family in Roman religion. She was rarely depicted in human form and 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 at the hearth in her temple. She was considered a guardian of the Roman people, and as such, hers was one of the last Republican pagan cults still active after the rise of Christianity until it was forcibly disbanded by the Christian emperor Theodosius I in AD 391.
Votive offerings have been described in the historical Roman era, and the tradition of votive offerings has been carried into Christianity in both the East and the West.
Vesta goddess of the Hearth
“…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 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 historic 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 generalised 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 symbolising the subject of their prayers. Other offerings include candles, prosphora, wine, oil, or incense. Also, many will leave something of personal value, such as jewellery, 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 fulfil a vow made to God for deliverance, or a thing left to a Church in gratitude for some favour that was granted. Today, votives can be lit votive candles, offered flowers, statues, vestments, and, monetary donations. Traditional particular forms of the votive offering include small silver models of the afflicted part of the body, inscribed stone tablets, folk art paintings of an incident of danger 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, displays over 10,000, with a military specialisation, 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.
- Have you made any Votive Offerings?
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)
Highlights of the Altes Museum
- Torso of a Hoplite Warrior
- Amphora – Depiction of a Funerary Procession
- Statuette of a Horse in Geometric Style
- Statue of Deified Empress Livia
- Votive Relief dedicated to Vesta
- Head of Athena in the Velletri Type
Explore Berlin’s Museums
- The Pergamon Museum
- Neues Museum
- Altes Museum
- Alte Nationalgalerie – National Gallery (Berlin)
- Bode Museum
- Gemäldegalerie, Berlin
- Spy Museum Berlin
- Jewish Museum, Berlin
- Deutsches Historisches Museum – German Historical Museum
- DDR Museum
“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