Why do Christians place candles in the church? - candles-fantasy.com
Why do Christians place candles in the church?


The history of church candles begins in ancient times. Candles have long been used as a source of light. But in religion, they became votive objects.

A votive object is an offering to a deity or saint as a sign of gratitude, devotion, or request. Votive offerings are a simplified sacrifice to a god and have been known since the time of cave dwellers.

With the development of religion, candles began to serve not only an illuminating function but also a votive one, embodying a variety of meanings. Church tradition reveals the functional origins of the first candles during the creation of the tabernacle when the Jews built a portable temple after being freed from Egyptian captivity. Lampstands were used during sacrifices and other Jewish rituals.

It was during this time that the menorah appeared – a golden seven-branched lampstand, the main symbol of Judaism.

Pagan Origins of Candles in Christianity

However, ritual candles appeared in Christianity relatively late. Initially, ordinary oil lamps or candles were used to illuminate rooms in the evening. But the emergence of candles as ritual objects is associated with non-Christian beliefs.

The use of candles as votive objects was sometimes mocked by Christians. In the early 4th century, the early Christian writer Lactantius wrote:

"Can anyone in his right mind consider it an offering to the Creator and Giver of light to present the flickering of candles and wax?"

Divine Institutes, Book Six

Lactantius may have considered the use of candles as an offering a pagan practice, which was accurate for that time. It is known that the Romans placed lit candles on household altars dedicated to their patron deities.

Christians adopted the pagan tradition at least by the 3rd century, as evidenced by the Council of Elvira, held in Spain at the beginning of the 4th century. Rule 34 of this local council forbade placing candles in cemeteries during daylight hours. This suggests that the early church tried to use candles exclusively for illumination.

Church Conflicts Over Candles in the 5th Century

In the early 5th century, there was a dispute over church candles between the presbyter Vigilantius and the church authority of that time, Jerome of Stridon. Vigilantius opposed them because he considered it pagan. Jerome defended church candles.

In his book "Against Vigilantius," Jerome calls his opponent uneducated and writes:

"We do not light candles in the clear light, as you falsely accuse, but to temper the darkness of the night and to stay awake until dawn, so that we do not sleep with you blind in the darkness."

Jerome also continues that the candles offered to the martyrs and to God are not necessary at all, but they show the devotion of the believers, so they cannot be called pagans. Thus, Jerome justifies the use of candles if they support faith in God and the holiness of the martyrs.

The Meaning of Candles

Thus, church candles were a subject of dispute until the 5th century because their origins can be traced not from the Old Testament but from pagan practice. They served as ordinary votive objects, a small sacrifice offered to saints and God. This meaning has been preserved to this day.

However, over time, the significance of church candles was supplemented. Saint Sophronius of Jerusalem wrote in the 7th century:

"Lamps and candles are symbols of the eternal Light and also signify the light with which the righteous shine."

The light of candles came to signify divine light, purity of the soul, and Christian faith. They also symbolically remind us of the burning bush encountered by Moses. They serve as symbols of the Holy Spirit, the light of the good news, and so on. But behind all these euphonious words lies the true meaning of candles as votive objects, which are used in most religions.

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