Vesta (mythology)

   Vesta, in Roman mythology, the goddess of the hearth. A sacred fire was kept burn­ing on her altar at the foot of the Pala­tine Hill. If by any mischance it went out it was rekindled with the rays of the sun. Four priestesses of Vesta, later six, were known as vestals or vestal virgins. They had charge of the temple, the sacred fire, and the ceremonies connected with her worship. The position of a vestal was one of great honor.  The vestals were given the choicest seats at the games and were regarded as beings of spotless purity. Daughters of noble families sought the honor. They served for thirty years, ten years to learn the duties of the temple, ten to perform them, and ten to teach them to their successors. At the end of the thirty years a vestal was free to return to her father's house and even to marry if she chose. The fall of a vestal from virtue was regarded as the most shocking of crimes and was punished with death by stoning or burial alive. The Roman vestals may be regarded as an early order of nuns. The Greek name of Vesta was Hestia.