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Candles Over the Centuries

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  • For ages now, the light of candles has played a part in History. But what is the light and flame of a candle? It is not so easy to answer this question. The definition evolves over the centuries. The meaning itself of a candle is at the moment, in a few words, a flammable wick surrounded with solid combustible matter.

    The idea of burning grease is fairly ancient. The Indians were already using animal grease.
    We know that the Etruscans were using torches that resembled candles a lot. Their offspring, the Romans, had the habit of burning papyrus rolled and dipped in grease. These little cylinders of papyrus were called «candelae». This term is the origin of the word candle. But these “candalae” can still not be called candles. Pline le Jeune, a Latin writer of the 1st Century, tells in one of his works that that in his time, the “candalae” were made of linen surrounded with wax.
    It is difficult to know when the first real candles appeared.
    To date, it is in France, at Vaison near Avignon, that the oldest vestiges of candles have been found. These vestiges date around 1900 years old.

    At the beginning of our era, soot and wax were the most common raw materials used for candle making. Beeswax being very expensive, people would rather use grease, which was often of poor quality. The candle would drip, blacken, produce some soot and its smell was strong.
    The beeswax candles were of good quality and smelt good, but they were also very expensive.
    They were reserved to the use of the Church, rich families and the King. Everyday at the court of Louis XIV, new beeswax candles were put in all the chandeliers.