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Fornacalia, the ancient festival of bread and ovens

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Originally written on February 2020 – Updated 2023

In these days, from 7 to 17 February, ancient Romans were celebrating agricultural festivals of Fornacalia.
It was a festivity dedicated to the goddess Fornax (hence oven, kiln), who ensured a good bread production, but also protector of the ovens in which bread was baked, and spelled roasting began.

In the Forum were brought the symbols of the various curiae, which in the period of the Roman monarchy and the Roman Republic were the thirty wards of the city of Rome. Each day the offering to the goddess took place in a different curia and It is believed that every family in the curia brought far (spelt, a kind of grain), to be toasted in the meeting hall and sacrificed to ensure that bread in the household ovens wouldn’t be burnt in the following year.
The last day of this festival was the quirinalia, which was also jokingly nicknamed the ‘feast of fools’.
It was called in this way because, according to Ovid, “Only the fools do not know to which curia they belong”, and all the curiae met together on that day for a collective feast.
Ovid also wrote that “the oven was made a goddess, Fornax: the farmers, pleased with her, prayed she’d regulate the grain’s heat.”

This recurrence was introduced by King Numa Pompilius, who reformed the Roman calendar and regulated the various festivities.
The great purification festival has just passed and the Fire, symbol of the return of Spring, is used in the oldest evocative rite of gestation: bread making.
The bread that rises inside the oven has always been a symbol of pregnancy, just like the fetus that develops inside the warm maternal crotch.
It is no coincidence that they say “a bun in the oven” when a woman becomes pregnant.

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