Votive candle

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Votive candle being lit at a cathedral in Brussels
Votive candles at a small Catholic grotto in Texas
Votive candles on sale for All Hallows' Eve in a Midwestern department store
A small votive candle rack at an Episcopal cathedral.
Votive candles at a homemade altar.

A votive candle or prayer candle is a small candle, typically white or beeswax yellow, intended to be burnt as a votive offering in a religious ceremony. It now also refers to a standard size of candle two inches tall by one and a half inches diameter, of any color or scent.

Christian use[edit]

Candles are lit for prayer intentions. To "light a candle for someone" indicates one's intention to say a prayer for another person, and the candle symbolizes that prayer. A donation box intended to defray candle costs generally accompanies votive candles. In some churches, the donation is considered a mandatory contribution in exchange for lighting a candle.

Roman Catholicism[edit]

In the Roman Catholic Church, candles are placed before a statue of Jesus or of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Often, in older or traditional churches, this will be before a side altar. Candles used may vary from long, taper-type candles to tealight candles. Tealight candles are either placed in holders or just on a platform in front of the statue. Long candles may be placed in a special holder.[1]

Eastern Orthodoxy[edit]

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, candles are lit before icons, usually of Jesus Christ or the Holy Theotokos. Usually Orthodox churches only use long, thin candles. These are usually placed in round containers, having either various sockets to hold the candles, or in a container filled with sand, in which the worshippers place their candles. Orthodox churches will usually have a separate place to put candles lit for the departed; Roman Catholic churches make no such distinction.


Some Anglican churches (typically High Anglican churches) also have votive candles for purposes similar to that of the Roman Catholic Church. They use the candles to pray for the dead as well as to ask for saintly intercession.


Although typically a Catholic practice, votive candles are used in High Church and Evangelical Catholic forms of Protestantism.


Lutheran churches may use votive candles which may be lit at home or at the church. They are usually lit on altar racks, altar rails, or in front of a cross. They also may be lit during the Liturgy of Good Friday.


Methodism of the High Church tradition makes use of votive candles. During the liturgical celebration of All Saint's Day votive candles are lit and a prayer is said for each person of the congregation who has died that year. Votive candles may be also lit during communion services.[2] Methodism does not practice intercessory prayers of the saints, and uses the votive candles to pray directly to God.

Hinduism use[edit]

Burning a votive candle as a prayer for someone or some situation, is also often used as a ritual in India. At the Ganges River, people often offer votive candles.

Buddhist use[edit]

As with most religions that utilize candles for prayer, Buddhists traditionally light votive candles to be made as offerings. Lights serve as a symbol of illuminating wisdom and a reminder of the Buddha's last sermon, in which he exhorted his disciples to follow the teachings rather than the teacher himself.

Muslim use[edit]

Although not as commonplace as other faiths, candles are used for various religious purposes (especially at the tombs of saints), as well as Shrines and to a lesser extent Mosques. Certain events see the ritual use of candles more than others, for example among Shias during the Mourning of Muharram. Groups such as the Bektashis and Alevis include a more ritualized use of candles in their ceremonies than other sects.

Votive candle composition[edit]

Votive candles are made from paraffin or wax, but there are different grades of paraffin with different melting points. Often paraffin is mixed with other types of waxes like beeswax or vegetable wax. This is done to obtain the rigidity necessary for the type of candle being made. Depending on the quality of wax used, a candle may burn very fast or very slow. It may have a low melting point and produce little to no oil, such as a taper candle that sits in a candle holder "ring," or it may have a very low melting point and turn to oil, as with votives that sit in glass cups. Pillar candles, large candles often with multiple wicks, have their own formula. Candle quality also varies widely depending on the candle maker. The aroma from a lighted scented candle is released through the evaporation of the fragrance from the hot wax pool and from the solid candle itself. It’s highly unlikely that you would find a lead wick in any candle sold in the U.S. today. Lead-core wicks have been banned from the U.S. since 2003, and members of the National Candle Association - which account for more than 90% of candles made in the U.S. - have not used lead wicks for more than 30 years. Reputable manufacturers use cotton, cotton-paper, zinc-core or tin-core wicks, all of which are known to be safe. [3]

Votive candles 01 Votive candles 02

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ask a Catholic: Why light candles at church?". Cptryon.org. Retrieved 2010-07-10. 
  2. ^ Benedict, Daniel. "Emerging Worship: Votive Candles, Prayer, and Postmoderns". United Methodist Church - General Board of Discipleship. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  3. ^ http://www.candles.org/elements_fragrance.html

External links[edit]

Media related to Votive candles at Wikimedia Commons