Bede records in his Reckoning of Time (A.D. 725) the use of candles at the Feast of Purification was common in his day. (Latin Text)
[O]n the feast of St Mary, the whole populace with the priests and ministers goes on procession through the churches and the city neighbourhoods, all singing devout hymns, and carrying in their hands burning candles given them by the bishop. As this good custom grew, it provided a model for the conduct of other feasts of the blessed Mother and perpetual Virgin as well, not in the five-year lustration of a worldly empire, but in the everlasting memory of the heavenly kingdom where, according to the parable of the wise virgins, all the elect shall go out to meet the Bridegroom, their King, with the lamps of their good deeds alight, and then shall enter into the heavenly city with Him. (Bede, The Reckoning of Time, Translation by Faith Wallis, Liverpool University Press, 1999 p. 49)
Ronald Hutton observed that the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2 gives ample reason for candles when the Christ child “was recognized there, according to the tale, by an old man called Simeon, who hailed him as the messiah of Israel and a Light to lighten the Gentiles.”
(The Stations of the Sun, 1999:139)
Is there, in bowers of endless spring,
One known from all the seraph band
By softer voice, by smile and wing
More exquisitely bland!
Here let him speed: to-day this hallowed air
Is fragrant with a mother’s first and fondest prayer.
Only let Heaven her fire impart,
No richer incense breathes on earth:
“A spouse with all a daughter’s heart,”
Fresh from the perilous birth,
To the great Father lifts her pale glad eye,
Like a reviving flower when storms are hushed on high.
Oh, what a treasure of sweet thought
Is here! what hope and joy and love
All in one tender bosom brought,
For the all-gracious Dove
To brood o’er silently, and form for Heaven
Each passionate wish and dream to dear affection given.
Her fluttering heart, too keenly blest,
Would sicken, but she leans on Thee,
Sees Thee by faith on Mary’s breast,
And breathes serene and free.
Slight tremblings only of her veil declare
Soft answers duly whispered to each soothing prayer.
We are too weak, when Thou dost bless,
To bear the joy–help, Virgin-born!
By Thine own mother’s first caress,
That waked Thy natal morn!
Help, by the unexpressive smile, that made
A Heaven on earth around this couch where Thou wast laid.
A Polish legend relates that Mary, the Mother of God of the “Blessed Thunder Candle” (Matka Boska Gromniczna), watches over the people on cold February nights. With her thunder candle, she wards off the ravenous pack and protects the peasants from all harm.
The Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgi Mary
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
2 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean.
3 And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.
4 And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled.
5 But if she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her separation: and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying threescore and six days.
6 And when the days of her purifying are fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtledove, for a sin offering, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest:
7 Who shall offer it before the Lord, and make an atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood. This is the law for her that hath born a male or a female.
8 And if she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons; the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering: and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean.
Leviticus 12 KJV.
All this bring us to the idea that a woman is unclean after the birth of a child. This is something I will come back to, I hope.
For more information on the Churching of Women after the birth of a child in the Christain tradition take a look at the work by Natalie Knödel, University of Durham. April 1995
**For more on the Jewish Women Mikvah take a look at the wonderful blog page
Waters of Contention
The Mikveh Project; Photographs by Janice Rubin, Text by Leah Lax
** First published in 2017, @ Tales from the Undergardener’s Lodge