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September 5, 2007 7:36 PM   Subscribe

Is there a specific name for the Catholic candles you can get at Mexican grocery stores? The ones in glass jars with pictures of saints, Marias, or Jesus? And can anyone tell me more about them, such as how they fit into Catholicism or their cultural resonances? I'm curious about them, and I've found remarkably little info on the internet-- which leads me to wonder if I'm not using the right search term, or if (egads!) there actually is not a website out there with information.
posted by bookish to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know much about 'em, but try searching for novena candles.
posted by phoenixy at 7:45 PM on September 5, 2007

Novena candles.

Lucky Mojo has some more info on them - largely as they relate to Mexican tradition - here. The basics are summed up by this sentence: "Novena candles are designed to be burned for nine days while a series of votary prayers are made."
posted by cobaltnine at 7:46 PM on September 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Also "votive candles"
posted by zadcat at 7:59 PM on September 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Votive candles?
posted by gergtreble at 8:03 PM on September 5, 2007

As for cultural resonance: This is very much a Mexican Catholic thing. My Polish-McWhitey Catholic family didn't have any in the house, although I'd guess that most Catholics (in the US, at least) are familiar with it. A friend of my mom's brought one over when my mom died; my dad put it up somewhere.

At my (Catholic) high school, which was probably 15% Hispanic, there was a definite Hispanic association with Novena candles and other Marian traditions (in some cases, a vaguely racist 'oh, how tacky' one - just because we're all the same religion doesn't mean we had to like each other very much).
posted by dismas at 8:14 PM on September 5, 2007

When you find them in that sort of store, the candles can be used by not just garden-variety Catholics, but by the many offshoots and fusions of Catholicism with earlier religions found in Afro-Caribbean and Central and South American cultures, such as Voudoun/Voodoo/Hoodoo and Santeria. They can be used for fortunetelling, as if the saint is speaking directly to you through the flame, or simply burned for luck or favor. The lighting and burning are thought of as prayer.
posted by Miko at 8:15 PM on September 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

In my neck of the woods, the candles are frequently sold alongside sprays like these. As Miko points out, they are often associated with voodoo/santeria, and dismas is correct that many white (and other non-Mexican ethnic) Catholics are not favorably inclined towards the practices.
posted by katemonster at 8:38 PM on September 5, 2007

Also called veladoras. The ones without pictures are called seven-day candles.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:38 PM on September 5, 2007

The candles with St. Joseph are not necessarily Catholic. During St. Joseph's Day, churches put out St. Joseph tables with these glass candles and an image of St. Joseph. There's also all kinds of food that has some sort of symbolism regarding that's a combination with historical events of modern Italy (that is, 16th c. onward) and the Catholic Church. It has nothing to do with Voodoo or Hoodoo mysticism and is as much of a cultural event as a religious one.

There was definitely differences in Hispanic and mainstream Catholicism (I volunteered at an inner-city Hispanic school). Not religious differences, but complete disconnects in the community and such. Marial devotion is huge in the Hispanic community. I have no idea where it comes from, but I think the Lady of Guadalupe concept runs well with traditionaly Mestizo culture. I could be completely wrong.
posted by geoff. at 8:46 PM on September 5, 2007

not necessarily Hispanic Catholic.
posted by geoff. at 8:47 PM on September 5, 2007

The image you often times see on the candles is the Lady of Guadalupe- aka the Virgin Mary who appeared to some Mexican children back in the 1500s.
posted by jmd82 at 8:48 PM on September 5, 2007

Following up on jmd82: the wikipedia entry on the Virgin of Guadalupe is pretty extensive and fascinating
posted by dismas at 9:12 PM on September 5, 2007

The correct term is "veladora" or "cirio". A "veladora" is just a votive candle as gergtreble suggested.

Some people in Mexico, even if they aren't devout catholics (or catholic at all), have veladoras in their homes that have the image of a saint to whom they are thankful for something or to whom they are asking a favor.

There is even a fuzzy area between fortune tellers and catholic tradition since fortune tellers use images, prayers, veladoras or even saints of catholics but for esoteric purposes. In the last years a "saint" called "La Santa Muerte" ("Saint Death") has gained quite a bit of popularity, especially among the drug dealers.

This particular yahoo store carries all diferent kinds of veladoras. You will quickly get the idea that some are for devouts, other for esoteric rituals (there is a veladora of la Santa Muerte) and some others just for fun.
posted by edmz at 10:05 PM on September 5, 2007

I think I've seen veladoras with cartoon characters on them. That is, they've already been remixed by Mexican culture.

At least in one part of Mexico, you could buy them at the corner market and they typically had different Saints on them and each Saint had some special healing power, of course. So, you were supposed to get one and burn it for this or that purpose.

As far as i know, it's never really been part of mainstream Mexican Catholicism but more of an offshoot, perhaps influenced by Santeria or Carribean religions.
posted by vacapinta at 10:44 PM on September 5, 2007

This is only mildly related, but here are some Duran Duran candles someone made from those supermarket candles, complete with instructions.
posted by houseofdanie at 10:58 PM on September 5, 2007

Personally, I wouldn't refer to them as votive candles... Maybe Hispanic catholics would, but where I'm from, a votive candle is small, usually only 2 inches or so high (a little bigger than a tea light).
posted by drezdn at 7:04 AM on September 6, 2007

I have no idea where it comes from, but I think the Lady of Guadalupe concept runs well with traditionaly Mestizo culture.

In Hispanic cultures as in Italian cultures, Marial devotion is thought to have been strongly influenced by earlier ("pagan") matriarchal religious beliefs. Catholicism hardly exists in "pure" form despite milennia of attempted standardization; it's deeply influenced by local pre-Christian traditions.

Personally, I wouldn't refer to them as votive candles...

While "votive candles" is retail parlance for the little white ones, in this usage "votive" refers to the purpose of the candle rather than shape or size and is indeed accurate.
posted by Miko at 7:17 AM on September 6, 2007

This of course has something to do with how Catholicism blended with native religions in the Mexico and other places in the Spanish-speaking Americas, but there are parallels between this and Spanish Catholicism. The worship of the Virgin Mary for example, as well as a devotion to particular saints. Indeed my aunt and many people of her generation (i.e. born in the late 20's I'd guess) have cards with particular saints names on with a prayer that they'd say for a particular thing (health, prosperity etc.) and light a candle. The important thing is that she swears by certain saints (some of which are quite obscure) and seems less enthused with others. It's not quite the same thing (i.e. I haven't seen candles like this in Spain) but it's close. My mother who has lived in the UK for fourty-odd years, doesn't quite subscribe to this as strongly as her older sister, which I suspect is as a result of the influence of other Catholic traditions. I hope that wasn't too much of a derail.
posted by ob at 7:24 AM on September 6, 2007

in Mexico rather...
posted by ob at 7:25 AM on September 6, 2007

I don't have any special knowledge about the use of these candles. In my neck of the desert (New Mexico), they are available in every grocery store, walmart, etc. All Catholic shrines I've been to have lots of these candles burning, with photos and letters next to them.

I'm not Catholic, most of the people I know well who use them buy them for nonreligious purposes. Usually they are by far the cheapest candles available, about a dollar each. No one calls them votive candles, although I suppose they would technically be votive offerings if they are used at a shrine. I've heard them called 7 day candles, but I don't speak Spanish. I've seen the term "novenas" on a sign with other Spanish words for various religious supplies.
posted by yohko at 7:44 AM on September 6, 2007

Here they're referred to as Seven Day candles too. (Then again, they're also referred to as 7 day novena candles). It seems like the easiest Internet way to find them is to search for seven day candles.

While "votive candles" is retail parlance for the little white ones, in this usage "votive" refers to the purpose of the candle rather than shape or size and is indeed accurate.

I'll agree that it is used for a votive in purpose, but (as a Catholic) if you asked me (or I'd be willing to bet, any of my Catholic relatives/acquaintances) for a votive candle odds are you would never get one of these larger candles.
posted by drezdn at 8:00 AM on September 6, 2007

There are a bunch of quirky ones out there. I gave my wife Our Lady of Tattoos and Piercings.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:09 AM on September 6, 2007

A few years back at a comic convention I got a veladora with the Pope dressed as Batman ("Bat-Pope") on it. I collect them, particularly ones with unusual pictures or the ones with creepy faces on them.
posted by erikharmon at 8:10 AM on September 6, 2007

Incidentally, anyone know a good place online to buy ones without labels, for "art" projects?
posted by erikharmon at 8:15 AM on September 6, 2007

A "novena" is actually a prayer to a specific entity that is meant to be repeated for nine days (from the Latin root nov-, which means nine). A "seven-day" candle would be for prayer on seven consecutive days, while a "novena" is continued for 9 days. This is an excellent Q & A about how Catholics use novenas, and notes cultural differences in which saints are most popular.
Votive candles (from the Latin votum, or vow), vigil candles (vigilia, waiting) and novena candles (novenas, nine each) began appearing in the 7th century and have been an integral part of Church worship ever since. "Votives are connected with prayers of petition for divine favors, in return for devotion or godly actions," says Meredith Gould, Ph.D., author of The Catholic Home: Celebrations and Traditions for Feast Days, Holidays and Every Day. "Novena candles are used for prayers of intention in honor of a saint over a nine-day or nine-week period."
A to seven-day candles, they appear to be less traditionally Catholic in origin. This article titled "Prayer Candles Are Popular Even With Non-Believers" is interesting:
Scholars and candle industry folks find their origin hard to pinpoint. According to Sister Schodts Reed, chief executive officer of the Reed Candle Factory in San Antonio, her Mexican-born father-in-law, Peter Doan Reed, invented the prayer candle in the late 1940s...after about a decade of making standard votives, Reed, in 1947, came up with a tall jar model that could burn for seven days and bore a picture of a spiritual figure along with a prayer.“His goal was to allow people to have their particular patron saint with the image on the candle so that they could light it and have their prayer on it,” Reed said. “That way, they have a silent prayer that is continuing even after they are done praying.”

Based on my limited Googling, it looks as though seven-day candles are also popular in Wicca, minus the saints, of course.
posted by Miko at 10:27 AM on September 6, 2007

the Lady of Guadalupe- aka the Virgin Mary who appeared to some Mexican children back in the 1500s.

You've confused two Virgins. The Lady of Fatima is the one who appeared to some (Portuguese) children. The Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego.
posted by Penks at 11:06 AM on September 6, 2007

Thank you everyone; basically every answer was interesting/helpful.

I knew Metafilter would have the answers.
posted by bookish at 7:12 PM on September 7, 2007

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