Considerations of Candles and Their Proportions in Relation to the Altar

In previous articles I have mentioned the importance of the predella, the ciborium magnum, the antenpendium, and the principle of "verticality" in helping to draw focus to that which is the centre of a church: the high altar.  Tying into this latter point, today I wished to focus on the matter of the candles and their proportions in relation to the altar and its candlesticks

The matter might seem trite by comparison, but in reality it ties into the entire picture as much as any other component that has been discussed to date. Of course, it must be noted that candles come in different shapes and forms, in some instances being wooden or metal tubes of fixed size wherein are placed beeswax candles, and in other cases a 'naked' candle of variable size, often fitted with a topper to help it burn down evenly. Either way, the principles of proportion presented here still apply.

To consider this matter, I wanted to share an example coming from Westminster Cathedral in London where I have taken the liberty of graphically modifying a photo of their Blessed Sacrament Chapel to illustrate the point. Here, then, is the original photo:

Beautiful to say the least. As for the candles, no doubt what we are seeing here are candles that have burnt down over time -- resulting in the shorter candles that we see. Witness though, what happens when we increase the height of the candles and how this changes our overall perception of the entire  altar arrangement:

Now see it again when we have increased their height yet further to reach further toward the cross and canopy:

What I would suggest here is that the taller candles create a better overall harmony and unity between the altar, tabernacle, cross and canopy that is not accomplished by the shorter candles seen in the first photo. In this particular instance, the taller candles better tie together the whole.

As for what those proportions precisely are, I don't pretend to offer a 'one size fits all' formula, as evidently various considerations will need to be taken into account, however, in general, what I have found to be a good starting point for considerations such as these is that the candles should typically be at least as tall as the candlesticks or altar itself, if not higher.

From a practical point of view, one method that can be useful in testing this is to precisely do what I have done here; namely, to take a digital photograph of your altar and edit it accordingly to play with different rations and designs to see what will best fit your particular circumstances.

From a sacristan or parish priest's point of view, this can be useful in knowing two things where 'naked' candles are concerned: what height to acquire and how far down to let them burn down before you transfer them elsewhere in the church.

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