The Mercuralia

As you may recall, May 15th is my birthday. It’s also the Mercuralia, the Festival of Mercury.

Please note the curly hair.

Traditionally, or so the wikipedia tells me, on this day merchants would sprinkle their heads, ships, merchandise, and places of business with water from the well at the Porta Capena.

Porta Capena was a southern gateway in Rome’s old Servian Wall. It is said that its green stones dripped perpetually with water from the leaking Aqua Marcia aqueduct, which ran above it.

I found no online mention to the well being preserved. I imagined some crazed billionaire would have tapped into it by now with a very expensive personal pipeline.

After further research, it seems that the “well” may actually a fountain fed by the aqua Mercurii, but if that’s the case then it appears it may have already been diverted:

Aqua Mercurii…a spring which is thought to be one of those now flowing in the gardens of the villa Mattei Its waters were conducted in an artificial channel through the valley of the Circus Maximus to the Cloaca Maxima…The topography and monuments of ancient Rome By Samuel Ball Platner

And this, from Rome, By Amanda Claridge, Judith Toms, Tony Cubberley:

Back-tracking to the south of S. Gregorio, the woods beyond the church obscure a valley between it and the Villa Celimontana spur. Wooden in Roman times as well, it contained a grove (lucus) and spring fons) inhabited by local water-goddesses called the Camenae, and especially sacred to the nymph Egeria, who had consorted with Numa, the first king of Rome, giving him wise counsel. The Vestal Virgins used to come daily to draw their water from the spring, and the grove was still a place of religious cult in the late C4 AD. There were springs all along the slopes on this side of the hill; one was tapped as the source of a small aqueduct, the Aqua Mercurii (of Mercury), which ran alongside the Circus Maximus to fill two fountains at the SW corner of the Palatine (near S. Anastasia).

I’ve seen in several places that a sacred grove of Egeria was near the Porta Capena. Today it appears that Porta Capena is the site of a busy intersection. I imagine Numa Popilius and Egeria meeting there in a non-fatal car wreck.

What became of the water in the spring? Several accounts say it used to be collected by merchants in fumigated jars, and then laurel branches dipped in these jars were used to transfer the water to all that the merchants wished to bless.

I can completely picture CEOs of major companies getting together and doing that. Come on, conspiracy theorists! Is someone on this yet?

I also feel the need to point out that in 2005, some folks celebrated the Mercuralia with a fire circle and rave on Friday the 13th.

I know that the 15th was a school night that year, but really?

Of course, I don’t celebrate it at all. Sharing your birthday with a God can be a real drag. Just ask anyone who was born on Christmas.


About paulgude

Paul Gude writes small books, makes stupid music, draws silly pictures, and does weird things on stage.
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