Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

Of the various classes of remains from Christian antiquity there is probably none so numerously represented as that of small clay lamps adorned with Christian symbols. Lamps of this character have been found in all the ancient centres of Christianity, but the Roman catacombs are especially remarkable for the large numbers of these fragile utensils they contain, many of which, however, bear no intrinsic mark of their Christian origin. These clay lamps belong to two categories; the more ancient manufactured in the early imperial period, and the type of the Constantinian epoch. Even in this not very conspicuous department of arts and crafts there was a notable decline between the first and the fourth or fifth century; the clay lamps of the former period are of far superior workmanship to those of the latter. In form also there is a difference between the two species ; lamps of the classic period are round with an ascending perforated handle, whereas the lamps typical of the Christian period somewhat resemble a boat or a shoe with an unperforated handle running to a point. In lamps of Egyptian origin the handles were soldered on after the lamp itself was molded. The favorite symbol, though by no means the only one adorning lamps of Christian origin, was the monogram of Constantine. In some instances they were adorned with the figure of a saint, occasionally accompanied by an inscription.

Bronze lamps of Christian origin have also been found, and, though far rarer than the clay lamps described, they are of much greater interest. One of the most remarkable is a bronze lamp of the fifth century, now in St. Petersburg, which takes the form of an early Christian basilica. Of equal interest is a bronze lamp in the Uffizi gallery at Florence, it has the form of a ship, with inflated sails and two statuettes of bronze, supposed to represent St. Peter and St. Paul, at the prow. Bronze lamps also exist in the forms of a dove, a duck, a peacock, a crow, etc. The museum of Algiers contains a specimen of a lamp mounted on a pedestal, of excellent workmanship ornamented with the apocalyptic Greek letters A and D, and a dolphin. Many of the gold and silver lamps presented by Constantine the Great to the Lateran Basilica were also in the form of dolphins, as the "Liber Pontificalis" informs us; lamps in the form of the symbolic fish were probably common, though only one of terra cotta is known. The lamps presented by Constantine to the Lateran—a truly imperial gift—comprised altogether 174 chandeliers and candlesticks, which furnished, it is calculated, 8730 separate lights. The most precious of these is the chandelier "of purest gold", weighing fifty pounds and ornamented with fifty dolphins, which hung from the Ciborium ; the chains in addition weighed twenty-five pounds. Before the principal altar stood a silver chandelier, weighing fifty pounds, adorned with twenty dolphins. The nave was lighted by forty five silver standards ( fara canthara ), the right aisle by forty and the left by forty-five. Besides these chandeliers for lamps, the nave contained fifty silver standards for candles, while before each of the seven altars of the basilica stood a candelabrum ten feet high, made of copper inlaid with reliefs in silver representing the Prophets. Gifts of precious candelabra, though fewer in number, were also made by Constantine to the basilicas of St. Peter, St. Paul, Santa Croce, St. Agnes, and St. Laurence ( "Liber Pontificalis", ed. Duchesne, I, 172 sqq.).


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, First Samuel 1:24-28
24 When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, ... Read More

Psalm, First Samuel 2:1, 4-5, 6-7, 8
1 Hannah then prayed as follows: My heart exults in ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 1:46-56
46 And Mary said: My soul proclaims the greatness of ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for December 22nd, 2014 Image

St. Chaeromon
December 22: Bishop of Nilopolis, in Egypt. When the persecution was ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter