A Brief History of Candlemaking

On Candlemas Night some people believed this would ward off evil spirits . . .

On Candlemas Night some people believed this would ward off evil spirits . . .

Candles have been the main source of artificial light for almost the whole of recorded history.   Necessary for life to continue after the setting of the sun, for centuries candles have served as a focal point for celebrations throughout the world.

In pre-Christian times, candles were used in the pagan Festival of Light.  Celebrated in ancient Britain this festival marks the mid point of winter, half way between the winter solstice (shortest day) and the spring equinox.  In these days tallow fat from cows or sheep became the standard material used to make candles in Europe.   Although tallow gives off an unpleasant smell, it had the advantage of being inexpensive & reliable.  

By the middle ages candles were commonplace throughout Europe, the popularity of candles is demonstrated by their use in Candlemas, this was the day that all the Church’s candles for the year were blessed.  On Candlemas night, many people placed lighted candles in their windows at home.   Some lit candles to scare away evil spirits on the dark winter nights, whilst others believed Candlemas predicted the weather for the rest of winter.

By the 13th century Candlemaking became a guild craft in England & France.  Known as Chandlers these craftsmen made candles from fats saved from the kitchen and sold their candles from their own small shops.

By 1415 tallow candles were so commonplace they were used in street lighting.  Expensive beeswax  candles were crafted for use in Churches and for Royal events as the smell was less unpleasant.  The cost was so high however, only the very wealthy or the clergy could afford them.

It was not until the 1850’s that paraffin waxes were first extracted from crude oil and became the Chandlers material of choice.  Since that time this by-product has supplied the candlemaking industry with a clean burning, stable material up to the present day & is commonly used in the production of candles  throughout the world.

The popularity of candles today is ever increasing.  Although no longer a necessity for light they are still used around the world for religious & symbolic celebrations.  There is an enchantment about the flickering light of a candle that seems to draw people together.   The ambiance of a room is enhanced with their simple, timeless beauty.

A brief history of Candlemaking.