Time to celebrate Parentalia

Just as we have got over Valentine’s Day, it is time to celebrate another Roman festival – Parentalia.

Parentalia ran between 13-22 February in Ancient Rome and was a time for families to celebrate their ancestors.

The anniversary kicks off on 13 February with ceremonies to appease the souls of the deceased – known as the Manes – performed by the chief Vestal Virgin, one of six priestesses who kept the hearth fire burning at the Altar of the Virgin Goddess of the hearth (and therefore, home), Vesta.  The priestesses were thought to be necessary to the safety and security of the Eternal City.

Chief_Vestal
Goodess of the Hearth, Vesta

Lupercalia – what we know as Valentine’s Day – took place on 15 February, when Ancient Rome celebrated fertility rites.

Fontana Barcacccia, Piazza di Spagna

On 17 February, there were two celebrations – the Oven Festival (Fornacalia) and Quirinalia, in honour of the ancient god Quirinus, after whom the Palazzo Quirinale is named.

IMG_1518
Quirinale Palace

On 21 February, there is a public celebration of Parentalia – and on 22 February Caristia (what we would call our “nearest and dearest”) is celebrated, involving rites to bring love and forgiveness to the family.

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Sarcofago degli Sposi (Sarcophagus of the Spouses), Villa Giulia, Rome

Some of the rites could be darker, such as Feralia, aimed at the gods of the Underworld (Hades) – known as di inferi – where the spirits of the ancestors dwelt, after crossing the underground River Styx upon death on a ferry operated by the ferryman Charon.

Crossing_the_River_Styx

To mark Feralia, Ancient Romans would take offerings to the tombs of their ancestors. There was a basic requirement for offerings, which is recorded as “an arrangement of wreaths, a sprinkling of grain and a bit of salt, bread soaked in wine and violets scattered about.” Ancient Romans could make their offerings even more generous, however, should their budget allow.

Caesar's altar mound
Remains of the altar of my own ancestor, Julius Caesar, in the Roman Forum. It is not known where Caesar is buried, but a temple was erected by Octavius to Caesar in AD44 by his great nephew, adoptive son, heir and successor, who became the first emperor of the Roman Empire. We know him as Emperor Augustus.

The remaining festivals in February kept the Ancient Romans busy celebrating: Terminalia on 23 February in celebration of Terminus, the god of boundary markers; Regifugium on 24 February, to mark the flight from Rome in 510BC of the last king of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus; and Equirria on 27 February, which was dedicated to the god Mars and consisted of a horse-racing event, one of two horse-racing festivals in Ancient Rome.

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Trevi Fountain, Rome

It is clear that there is nothing the Ancient Romans enjoyed more than a good festival and the holidays (feriae) which marked these. In fact, February appears to be one long holiday in Ancient Rome, including the moving banquet Compitalia between 3-5 February.

Food stall Vatican
Today’s moving banquet in Rome…

 

If you are ever short of a good reason to celebrate, you perhaps could do no better than check what the Ancient Romans might have got up to and take a leaf out of their book!

Buon viaggio!

 

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Catch up with the story in VERONA ALONE, when newly divorced former cellist Moira decides to fulfil a girlhood dream of visiting Verona during the summer opera season. There she is taken under the wing of a quirky and generous American who appears to have a secret, which is only discovered when she finds herself all at sea with him.

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