A little light on the Dark Ages

So what were the forms of lighting used by the people of the Dark/Medieval time period?

Most common was sunlight, for the poor serfs and peasants, with windows that were usually openings in the walls, able to be closed off with shutters in the colder weather. Some few were covered with sheets of horn, leather scraped thin enough to allow light to pass through,or in very rare cases, panes of mica -- they would go to bed with the sunset, rise with the dawn -- and other than the fires used for heat, no other illumination after dark, with the possible exception of rushlights (oil-soaked rushes held in metal loops attached to the walls or freestanding) and torches.

Oil lamps of various sorts, ranging from shallow clay bowls with a pinched corner to hold a wick, to glazed pottery with embedded metal holders that sat on metal platforms with polished back surfaces to reflect the flame, were available for those with the means to afford them. And of course, the richest and most powerful (meaning Royalty and the Church) could afford candles, a true luxury. Glass windows were also a rare luxury, something only for the very wealthy and powerful.

Nye's picture


that candles could be made fairly readily by most classes...

rdehwyll's picture


Candles were definitely NOT cheap, as the trade of making them was a Guild Secret, and charged for accordingly. There is an inventory of household goods for Caernarvon Castle written in 1138 that lists, "A supplie of chandles of bees wax, numbering fourety-seven in all, foure poundes, three shillings, sixpence." For comparison, the wages of a freeman farmer of the same period for a year averaged "three poundes styrlynge".

Nye's picture


I never realized... I guess they became common much later. That certainly wasn't covered in my classes on the period. Given, I was more in the literature than the history.

Clare-Dragonfly's picture


"I will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles."

Then again, he didn't say that in the Middle Ages.

Starrysky's picture

living without windows with glass. I love my house with all its windows!

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