When I was in The Temple and Ex-convento of San Jeronimo in Tlacocahuaya, east of Oaxaca City, there were the most beautiful hand-made candles! Candles are a very important element in the life of a Oaxacan. They are used in religious and other celebrations such as weddings, confirmations and "quinceanos" (a grandiose celebration of when a young girl turns 15 years old). These candles above were made in celebration of Saint Jeronimo.
The majority of these candles are made by a few women in the town, Teotitlan del Valle, also renown for is hand-woven rugs. Many learned this craft when they were very young children working side by side with their mother or grandmother.
The wax is bought in a large block. Later it is boiled along with herbs and lime to remove the impurities. Once the wax has cooled and the impurities have sunk to the bottom of the tub, it is carefully poured into another large tub until it becomes solid again. Then the wax is washed and placed in the sun to eliminate any excess moisture. The dried wax is a golden yellow color. To achieve a pure white, the wax is left in the sun for 30 days so the sun will bleach it to the desired white.
Cheaper, aniline dyed candles are used occasionally but that color only lasts a few days. Natural dyes are used for better candles and those maintain their color up to one to five years. Cochineal is used for the achieving pinks and red. (I wrote about cochineal on August 27, 2013).
Some artist will lick the finished candles to enhance their sheen; another reason to use natural dyes.
A string (the wick) is suspended from a wrought iron rack and hot wax is poured down the string to start forming the body of the candle. It is a time consuming process for it takes an hour between each pouring and the over all process can take up to several days! Each individual petal on the flower is made from a mold, then cut with a scissor and then all the petals are assembled to make one flower.
Papel de chino (tissue paper), gold foil paper and even tinsel are used in the design of some the roses.
The designs of the candles have evolved. Many artisans have introduced calla lilies (alcatrazes),dahlias, carnations, sunflowers and even gladiolas.
Some of the most ornate candles can take up to three months to make and even up to 250 pourings over the wick to make some of the larger candles.
So next time you are in a church in the Oaxaca area, stop and smell the roses... Check out these magnificent candle masterpieces.