It’s kind of strange how generational misrepresentation of the vestal virgins has resulted in the institution being regarded by some as something sexual and perverse. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The vestal virgins were priestesses (2, 4 and eventually 6 women) serving the goddess Vesta, attending religiously the sacred, perpetual fire in the temple. These women were chosen very young and served thirty years. Coming from noble families, they swore a vow of chastity. If they broke that vow, they were cursed and buried alive.
In ancient Rome, storerooms for food and wine were said to be protected by the Di Penates, or household gods. To show respect, during meals, people would throw bits of their meals into the hearth for these gods. The fire burning in a hearth was believed to contain the numen or power of these Di Penates of protection. Anyone who has played games that involve the use of magic and mana have been channeling the concept of numen. In Christianity, numen is the power of the Holy Spirit operating through humans.
Vestal Virgins were the nationalized means of respecting the household gods of Rome in absolution, protecting the storerooms and treasury. It was the very soul of the city- the Empire. The continuation of the perpetual fire the virgins attended was considered evidence of the gods neverending presence amongst them, thus bringing blessings, bountiful blessings.
The fire of the hearth had long been considered a source of power in many cultures. The Roman goddess Vesta came from ancient Greece and the goddess, Hestia. She was the one deity to remain on Mount Olympus not involving herself in the myths of mankind. Hers was a special honor, the keeper of the home.
The practice of the Vestal Virgins came to an end in 394 AD. Christian Emperor Theodosius I, the last emperor to rule over the whole Roman Empire, both East and West, ended the institution, extinguishing the flame.