How were medieval torches actually

Illumination in the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages are also known as the Dark Ages. This applies not only to ignorance (from the perspective of the Enlightenment), but also directly in the literal sense, because lighting was not always available to all social classes in the Middle Ages. Through the Darkness in the houses is z. B. to explain the color of the painted columns in the churches and the colorful painting of the "peasant furniture": These had to be conspicuously decorated in order to be perceived as designed furniture. The brightest room in a parish was usually the church, which was one of the earliest buildings with glass windows and lit with candles.

The most important source of light and heat was from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages the hearth fire. It formed the center of the house. Before there were matches, making a fire in the morning was a tedious and arduous job. It was the woman's job to use steel, flint and tinder to strike a fire. Often times, glowing coals were covered with ashes at night so that there was still embers in the morning. But it was not always possible to light a fire from it again.

There are other medieval sources of light besides the hearth fire Pine shavings, torches, lamps and candles. Also the window used to illuminate the house. Most of the windows were closed with wooden shutters. Another option was to use animal bladders that at least partially let light through. From the 11th / 12th In the 19th century there were glass windows first in churches and later also in bourgeois houses.

Pine shavings

Torches and filaments were probably used for lighting in the Middle Ages and modern times. They were specially made for this purpose by the tire cutter. Kien, the wood of the resinous pine, was used most often, although it was heavily sooty. Beech and birch shavings were also used for lighting. The flares were lit on the hearth fire. Iron baskets on long poles in which a burning chip was burned are depicted on image sources from the early modern period. Luminous shavings were also carried in the mouth during work, as can be seen in a painting by Olanus Magnus from 1555.

Were in richer families and in modern times also in peasant families Pine chip holder spread. Children were usually responsible for putting on a new chip. It was customary for the family to gather around the pine wood holder in the evenings, with the women doing handicrafts and the men carving.

Outdoors were used for lighting in the Middle Ages Torches used. This is a long piece of wood that has been soaked in resin, fat, oil, wax or pitch and ignited.


Lamps are archaeologically proven as early as the Stone Age. The Greeks and Romans achieved further developments in lamp technology. They used closed clay lamps with a wick and filling opening, and olive oil, which burned without soot and smell. Roman lamps have even been found in the Viking Age Haithabu. In the Middle Ages, however, olive oil was hardly available north of the Alps. Mostly was tallow used to power lamps, d. H. unprocessed kidney or belly fat from beef, pork or mutton, which was permeated with connective tissue and which stank and soot when burned. Later became Unschlitt Tran made that smelled less. Whale and seal oil, which was imported from the Arctic Ocean, was probably used as early as the Middle Ages.

Also vegetable oils were filled as fuel in lamps, e.g. B. Linseed oil or the oil of field mustard. Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) mentions rapeseed oil from rapeseed, a rapeseed plant, as a light source. A thread was used as the wick, e.g. B. made of hemp, flax or cotton.

Lamps were used from the Middle Ages to modern times, for example. B. made of wood, iron, clay or glass. Glass lamps were filled with water at the bottom to prevent them from shattering and to reduce the risk of fire. In northern Germany, small iron lamps to hang up, so-called Krüsel, were widespread until modern times.


Candles were more expensive than light shavings. They burned about as brightly as a pine chip, but safer and longer. The church in particular had a great need for candles. These were liturgically prescribed for example at baptism and burial. Therefore, beeswax was an important commodity during the Middle Ages, which was mainly imported from Eastern Europe. In contrast to Central Europe, forest beekeeping was possible there. But candles could also be made from whale rye, slice or tallow. A single strand of linen, cane or cotton served as the wick. However, this did not burn up completely, but instead made the flame soot. Therefore, the charred end had to be cut off regularly; H. the candle had to be cleaned or “blown”. These were Light cleaning scissors made of brass or iron used. These had a box in front into which the cut wick fell.

The author Christian Radtke writes (in: Matz, Jutta / Mehl, Heinrich (Ed.): Vom Kienspan zum Laserstrahl, p. 10):

All sources make it clear: The Middle Ages struggled for light. Its darkness, mocked by the Enlightenment, was meant symbolically and was even more true in the literal sense. There was no continuous lighting available to everyone. Noble guests may have been 'lit up' with a lantern. Light was a matter of class: the simpler, the darker. The brightest room in the community was probably the church, the room of divine light. This light was the goal of all thought and belief.


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Posted by BjörnCategories Everyday life, history, cultureTags Everyday life, farmers, trade, church, technology

About Björn

Studied German, grew up in northern Germany, and has lived in Franconia for fifteen years. History is my biggest hobby and in this blog I document some of the knowledge that I have read. Show all articles by Björn