Thursday, 28 July 2011

The Mystery of Taizé Candles

I mentioned in my blog about Easter in Taizé that my candle at Easter burned for longer than the expected 6.5 minutes, but as I do not wear a watch I had no idea how long it was, although my guess was over 10 minutes. I have been asking campers and giters alike ever since, to time their candles for me at the Saturday evening service. To be honest I do not think that they have taken their responsibilities seriously and have been coming back with stories such as “sorry I forgot to look at my watch” and “yes it did seem like a long time” etc etc, all very unscientific and very unsatisfactory. On talking to a set of campers on the subject this week, I discovered that they had taken an extra candle and it was in their tent (I won’t mention that it was Jeanine who did this). On realising the error in their ways at not timing their candles during the service, they gave me their spare candle and we timed it together and it was indeed longer than 6.5 minutes - in fact it burned for 11 minutes.

But that is not the whole story of course. I managed to find some old burnt Taizé candles, one from Before the change and one from After the change. The shorter of the two is from Before.

The length of the unburned candle was 20.5 cm. After burning, the remaining length of the Before candle was 9.5cm and of the After candle was 14cm. The weight of the unburned candle was 6g so the weight of wax burnt with the Before candles was 3.2 g and the After candles was 1.9 g. Using the burn times mentioned before (6.5 mins and 11 mins respectively) this gives burn rates of 0.49g/min and 0.17g/min. So the Before candles burned nearly 3 times faster than the After candles. All very interesting information but what does it all mean ?

From a candle making website I found these remarks:
Wax is the most important ingredient that makes a candle burn faster. Soft wax has a higher oil content and lower melt temperature; therefore, it burns faster. ….. But the wick thickness compared to the candle weight and thickness will also have a serious effect on burn time.
So from these comments one can deduce that the Before candles had much thicker wicks than the After candles and that the wax used now is a harder blend. Funnily enough, I remember having rather greasy hands after burning the Before candles, not so with the After candles, so the problem of the candle ends melting in people’s hands on hot summer evenings has also been eliminated in the change.

Ok that is burn time and greasy hands sorted out, but what about the fact that the candles go out automatically leaving an unburned end that cannot be re-lit? For the sake of safety the candles have been designed to self extinguish and this is very simple indeed to explain. Whilst there is something that goes through the candle right to the bottom to make it look as though the candle has a wick, the “wick” in the lower part of the candle is such that it will not burn - either a different non-flammable material or the wick is impregnated so that it can no longer absorb the liquid wax, I suspect the latter.

So there you have it - all you ever wanted to know about Taizé candles !

La Tuilerie Website for information on accommodation near Taizé

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