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Making of candles

Alsunga Catholic church uses at least 200 candles a year. They are made by Leokādija Gūtmane. Some of the candles are also given over to Jūrkalne and Gudenieki churches. In Jūrkalne, Marta Klaiva has also from time to time been engaged in this old craft.

You can’t use pure wax

L. Gūtmane has been pouring candles for the church for many years, working tools have been gradually created and various insights have been gained. Candles cannot be poured from pure wax, she says, paraffin must be added. Wax candles bend in the heat, paraffin makes them more rigid. But it is difficult to buy, we use the old stocks that we found in the church barn from ancient times. We tried to buy from the Ventspils candle factory, but they probably think we are competitors and don’t want to sell anymore. It is expensive in the pharmacy, it costs around 10 lats per kilogram. Now I tell everyone I know not to throw out the ends of the candles. It doesn’t matter that they are colored, the candles turn out to be darker. Wax is given by those who come to church, I also have bees myself. Candles are given to those who brought wax. My neighbor gives them away when he visits, it’s a nice treat. The wax, if it is darker, must be melted and strained several times to become lighter. Only cotton thread is suitable for the wick. I once happened to buy a large coil in a second-hand shop, which looked like cotton, but had synthetics in it, so the wick burned too fast. I had to re-do 50 candles. Linen thread also does not work, it smolders more, there is no good flame. Leokadia once bought the thread she is using now for crocheting, she folds it twice. If the wick is too thick, the candle burns too fast, she concludes.

Candles form in the carousel

L. Gūtmane uses a welded metal circle that resembles a carousel, around 50 wicks can be hung in it. Three hours pass while the candles form. The method is quite simple. The wicks are tied into a hoop, the wax and paraffin are melted, mixed and then poured with a tin can with a stem attached. From time to time, the lower part, where there is no wick, should be cut, the candles should also be rotated so that the wax is poured evenly from all sides. She does not roll the candles, although others do so – in her opinion, they should be moistened with water so that they do not stick to the table. The wax is melted on a gas stove in a thick cast iron pot rather than floating in water. If water gets into the wax, the candles crack. In a cast iron pot, the wax retains heat longer, but it must be reheated several times. If it is too hot, it happens that the entire candle flows, melts. The room should be moderately warm, then the candles turn out more evenly. Leokadia tried to pour into a mold made from a cut plastic bottle, it was useful for carrying to the cemetery. You need a lot of molds, it takes a long time for them to cool, so I didn’t like this method. Candles rolled from wax cells can be bought in stores. I have also done some like that, says L. Gūtmane, but it didn’t work for the church, they don’t burn to the end.

Marta’s candle making device consists of two vertical posts over which a light metal tube is placed. It’s a tripod. In this tube, Marta hangs a circle made from a strong young willow branch, which serves as a holder for six wicks. Marta’s hands smooth the wicks and she explains: It’s not a big deal. I put the wax into a bowl, put it in a pot of hot water. I put this electric stove under the pot, and it heats the water. Do not heat too much, then the wax becomes liquid. It should not be too hot or too cold. If the wax starts to melt, I turn off the stove. Slowly pour the wax down the wick, as one layer hardens, pour the next. I grow the candle for about an hour. This work requires a lot of patience, a lot.

Marta does not remember how many years she has been pouring candles, she says that the years come and go, who will count them all. Whenever the church needs candles, Marta makes them, about once during the winter. Candles are lit at the altar during religious services. Usually two on each side, three on holidays. The material for the wick, a solid ball of cotton string, was given to her by a local lady, and Marta is sure that she will have enough for herself and will also have enough left over for the next candle maker.

Before growing a candle, she tightly twists the wick and rubs it with a piece of wax so that it does not unravel. Marta doesn’t hide anything – she doesn’t throw anything, that’s why I also add the collected remnants of burnt candles to the wax – so that they don’t go to waste.

The publications of Juris Lipsnis and Tekla Šaitere in Kurzemnieks and Diena newspapers have been used for this article.