"A Goodly Monument": Durham's medieval Paschal candlestick

The great Paschal candlestick of Durham Cathedral was an astonishing sight, reaching almost to the top vault of the roof.

The Paschal or Easter candle is a large, white candle kept in churches to represent Jesus Christ, His resurrection from the dead, and that He is ‘the Light of the World’. A new candle is dedicated every year and lit at the Easter Vigil service, which at Durham is held at dawn on Easter Sunday. The candle is lit throughout the season of Easter, when it stands near to the High Altar. The rest of the year it stands beside the Font, as the candle is also lit for baptisms.

"...one of the rarest monuments in all England."

Did you know?

  • The candlestick was set up in the middle of the Quire near the High Altar, where it would stay from Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter) until the Wednesday after Ascension Day (40 days after Easter Sunday).

  • The base of the candlestick was almost as wide as the Quire. Its height was just short of the cathedral roof – about 75 feet (25 metres)!

  • The candlestick was made of wood and ‘latten’, a yellow metal similar to brass or bronze.

  • It was decorated with images of four flying dragons, with crystals set into their foreheads, and the four Evangelists (the writers of the New Testament Gospels). Around them were images of various animals, men on horseback with bows and arrows, knotwork and leaves, all ‘very finely wrought’.

  • It held seven candles in total: six small candles on the lower branches, and in the centre at the top the large Paschal candle.

  • The Paschal candle was square, not round.

  • The person lighting the candle had to lean in through a hole in the roof, made specially for the purpose!

  • When the candlestick was not in use, it was dismantled and stored under the steps leading up to Saint Cuthbert’s shrine.

  • During Lent (the 40 days leading up to Easter), the ‘Children of the Almonry’, local children housed and educated at the monastery, were given the job of cleaning and polishing it to ‘make it bright’ for Easter!