I don’t like candles. That may make me unpopular, and such inflammatory statements have gotten me in trouble in the past. The reasons I don’t like candles are many, but I’ll be brief here.
Generally they are scented, and I can be pretty allergic to heavy scents. They aren’t that practical. I mean, have you ever read a book by candle light?
I have. It sucks. Aside from the brief Charles Dickens vibe you get, you can’t see anything. The words swim and fade in and out of focus like land does for a drowning sailor. They are also dangerous. Open flames weren’t allowed at my dorm for a reason. That didn’t stop us of course - it was just easier to light our clove cigs (and other things) from a candle. But they are romantic you’ll scream. Are they? It’s a light source made of burning animal fat, how romantic is that?
I once had a job as an inventory associate at a furniture company that also sold candles. They came in boxes and many sizes and shapes and colors, and they got scratched all the damn time and nobody wanted them.
So when we walked by the tiny Vellas Loreto candle shop week after week of our time in Lisbon, I would just laugh and think (without derision) something like: Oh Lisbon, you are so old and quaint and religious. You have an old candle shop - and keep walking to the latest vegan restaurant or pastelaria.
That all changed today.
We have a friend in Australia who is super pregnant. She asked me sweetly to write “safe journey” on a candle and light it when she texts me that she is headed to the hospital.
So with great foresight and kizmet, the Vellas Loreto candle shop appeared flickering before us. We opened the ornate door and went in and almost stumbled over the people picking up their candles. Custom candle orders? It was busy, I’ll tell you that much.
It’s all wood panels and glass cases filled with different shapes and colors of candles. I thought there would be nothing but religious icons here, but these Lisboans have a greater need for candles apparently, and they aren’t just here for a random birthday.
While I’m sure they have them, I didn’t see a single birthday candle on display. There were egg shapes, lip shapes (for Valentines Day no doubt…gotta stay seasonal), tall shapes, squat shapes, busts of famous or not so famous people. It’s not a big shop, but it’s quiet as a tomb. The respect for the candle is big here.
This is a craft.
I watched as the woman behind the counter brought out a tray of little candles for a man to inspect. He peered over them with his glasses and looked at each one before deciding the best shape as if it were a delicacy he would later set upon a china plate and carve up with a silver knife. I imagined the candle in a puddle and wondered how much it mattered what it looks like to begin with, but I’m learning to respect this new art of the candle.
Well, it’s not new. Above the doorway leading to the massive back room is a clock, and below that clock it says 1789. I asked her how long they’ve been making candles here and she told me 221 years.
That’s a long time to make and sell candles. Long enough that I wanted to pack up my full time travel and dedicate myself to learning the art of candle making from the masters - to get lost in the back rooms of this little box of a store in the Chiado, a bustling and popular neighborhood, just to help the legacy continue on despite sceptics like myself.
She wrapped our little candle in a length of wax paper and then placed that in another piece of paper that she folded precisely and taped a few times. I wanted to tell her it wasn’t necessary to add the tiny sticker that looks like a wax seal for the Pope on top of it all, but I knew that it really was essential because that’s how they’ve done it at Vellas Loreto since 1789.
When I got home I did a little more research and went to their site. The candle shop has been in the same family for 7 generations, and it opened the same day the French Revolution revolution started.
Do yourself a favor and find yourself at Vellas Loreto the next time you are in Lisbon. Even if you don’t need (or hate) candles.