The Vestalia was a festival held in honour of Vesta on the 9th of June, and was celebrated exclusively by women, who walked barefooted in procession to the temple of the goddess.
The priestesses of Vesta, called Vestales or Vestal Virgins, played a conspicuous part in these festivals. They were six in number, and were chosen--between the ages of six and ten--from the noblest families in Rome. Their term of office was thirty years. During the first ten years, they were initiated in their religious duties, during the second ten they performed them, and during the third they instructed novices. Their chief duty was to watch and feed the ever-burning flame on the altar of Vesta, the extinction of which was regarded as a national calamity of ominous import.
Great honours and privileges were accorded to them; the best seats were reserved for their use at all public spectacles, and even the consuls and prætors made way for them to pass. If they met a criminal on his way to execution they had the power to pardon him, provided it could be proved that the meeting was accidental.
The Vestales were vowed to chastity, a violation of which was visited by the frightful punishment of being buried alive.