The door of Kyria Maria's workshop is half open one evening. It is almost
dark outside and inside there is only one single bulb lighting the room,
which is crowded with old cupboards. There are several small icons on the
wall and a very old poster illustrating the art of bee keeping and wax
making. Candles of various thicknesses are hung along the wall. Their
prices are marked in crayon above them.
In the center of the floor is a broad-brimmed cauldron ("kasani") squatting on three bricks. Inside it is a
pool of viscous ochre-colored liquid and a long- handled ladle. Above it,
suspended from the ceiling by a series of iron hooks and chains, is a
circular metal frame called "trohos". All around this frame there are 26
little hooks on which the naked foot-long wicks are suspended. There are
several of these frames hung from the ceiling and Kyria Maria will rotate
them systematically over the cauldron. In the corner is a tank of gas
attached to a firing apparatus beneath the cauldron.
The scene has a medieval aura.
The central figure is Kyria Maria herself, a gentle, soft- spoken woman
with kind eyes, beautifully done up silvery hair and a long skirt and apron.
When her household chores are done, Maria repairs to this workshop behind her
house where she makes all the candles that are used in the multitude of
about 150 churches and chapels on Hydra.
The candles are prepared in a slow and painstaking manner. They are not
dipped. Instead, the melted wax is ladled over each wick. When the wax has
hardened on the long strings, another coat is ladled on. To make a thin
candle requires an hour and a half. It takes three hours for the thicker
ones. The wax that is used is partially pure bees' wax ("keri alithino")
and partially artificial wax ("migma"). Much of the wax is recycled from old
candles brought back to be traded in for new ones. On the day we visit the
workshop, two men bring in candles to be recycled. One of them represents a
hundred women who, attending each to their private chapels, have gathered
all the half-burnt candles to take back to the workshop. Maria weighs the
used candles on a big iron scale and slowly makes her calculations. While
she is engaged in this transaction, she receives a cellular phone call for
order. No one present appears to be aware of this time warp.
Kyria Maria willingly explains to us how she became a candle-maker:
"I began when my husband died in 1982. He was a beekeeper and a fourth
generation candle-maker. He died suddenly, leaving me with small children.
So I needed the work. But I also needed something to get over my husband's
death. I had learned the trade from him, working at his side for several
I don't have any stress: only Easter and the Assumption of the Virgin on
August 15th are very busy times for me. The need for candles, though, is
constant on the island.
I like the work and I am grateful for the distraction it gave me from my
grief when my husband died. There is really nothing that I dislike about
it, except that the 'kasani' is getting a bit heavy for me to lift any
more. The smell and the touch of wax is lovely, and through my candles I
make contact with everyone on the island.
Who will continue to make candles after me? I don't know. I am the last of
four generations. None of my children will be doing it. My
daughter has married a priest and lives on Spetses as a 'papadia'".
Kyria Maria says this in a matter-of-fact way. She seems peaceful rather
than wistful. Now night has fallen and we rise to go.
Kyria Maria wraps some candles for us as gifts and embraces us.