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New Shapes in Church Lamps

Left: "Blue blob" cone lamp
Early 4th century A.D.

Right: Jar-shaped lamp
5th century A.D.

Cup-shaped and goblet-shaped lamps
6th century A.D.

Glass lamps were first mass-produced early in the 4th century A.D. Most were conical in shape and quite large: they could hold far more oil that the traditional pottery lamp of those times, and so burn far longer. They also shed as much as 60% more light, if the wick was well-tended. We can imagine how someone would carry a pottery lamp into a dark room just to find his way about, then work in that room by the light of several glass lamps set in ring brackets on the surrounding walls.

The 4th century A.D. cone lamp evolved from its domestic role to its ecclesiastical one in many ways, so that by the 6th century A.D. some of the new kinds had long stems, others had short ones; some had wide-open mouths, other had narrow ones. In some bowl-shaped lamps a central glass tube was added that would hold the wick steady and erect, ensuring constancy of the flame. Many other early Byzantine lamps were adaptations of domestic jars, with a few loops added to their neck rim so that, if need be, they could be suspended individually.