The Ancient Mystery of the Ever-Burning Lamps
Fire is only produced when certain materials – a combustible material, an oxidizer, and a source of heat – are present in the right proportions. The absence of one or more of these elements would extinguish a flame. It is believed, however, that there are lamps whose flames have continued burning for an exceptional amount of time without human intervention. This phenomenon, which has not been scientifically explained, is indeed a very intriguing one. What are these so-called ever burning lamps? And, do they really exist?
The Cyrene Temple of Apollo was said to have an ever-burning lamp. (Public domain)
Ever Burning Lamps in the Ancient World
Ever burning lamps have been recorded by writers from various parts of the world at different points in history. In the ancient world, for instance, the writer Plutarch mentions in his work De Defectu Oraculorum a lamp that burned over the door of the Temple of Jupiter Ammon in Egypt. According to Plutarch, the priests of the temple claimed that the lamp stood in the open air, and neither wind nor rain put it out. Similar accounts are given for the altar of the Temple of Apollo Carneus, at Cyrene, and the great Temple of Aderbain, in Armenia.
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Another Classical author, Pausanias wrote about a gold lamp in the Temple of Minerva Polias in Athens. This lamp, which was built by the scholar Callimachus, was said to have been able to maintain a flame steadily for a year without the need for refueling or having its wick trimmed.
It was also believed that Numa Pompilius, the legendary second king of Rome, was able to communicate directly with the gods, and that he created a light that burned perpetually in a temple he had dedicated to an elemental being. Some have even postulated that Numa had knowledge of electricity, and that his successor, Tullus Hostilius, was killed when his attempt to draw electricity from lightning went wrong.
Pausanias wrote about a gold ever burning lamp in the temple of Minerva Polias, whose west end can be seen in this painting by James Stuart from the 1700s. (Public domain)
Ever Burning Lamps in the Late Antique and Medieval Periods
Ever burning lamps have also been described during the Late Antique and medieval periods. It is said that during the reign of the Byzantine emperor Justinian, an ever burning lamp was found by soldiers at either Edessa or Antioch. According to the story, the lamp was discovered in a niche over the city gate, and the inscriptions suggest that the lamp has been burning for 500 years. St. Augustine also mentions an ever burning lamp in an Egyptian temple dedicated to Venus, and suggests that it was the work of the Devil.
During the reign of Henry VIII (or the early medieval period, according to another source), an ever burning lamp was also reported to have been found in England. As Henry separated from the Roman Catholic Church, and established the Church of England, he demanded the destruction of Catholic churches and communities should they refuse to be incorporated into his new church.
It seems that even the dead were not spared. When the tomb of a wealthy man who had died around the 4th century AD was opened, they discovered a lamp that was still alight. Some have even claimed that this tomb belonged to Constantius Chlorus, the father of the emperor Constantine.
In India, the ancient Hindu temple of Jwala Ji, located in the lower Himalayan town of Jawalamukhi in Himachal Pradesh, has a constantly burning blue flame that comes from the rocks in various places within the temple. Jwala means “flame”. It is said to have been constantly burning since the beginning of its known history.
Lamps have lit the way for people for hundreds of years. (BigStockPhoto)
Do Ever Burning Lamps Really Exist?
Although there is a surfeit of stories regarding ever burning lamps from various periods of time, it seems that there is a conspicuous lack of physical evidence for such objects. Furthermore, there is no known substance with such properties. Numerous explanations have been proposed to explain this mystery, ranging from the “work of the Devil” to “alien gods”.
Others, however, have attributed such inventions not to external forces, but to the genius of human beings. Could our ancient ancestors have held knowledge regarding a way to create a perpetual flame, which has become lost to the pages of history?
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It is certainly possible, however, given the fact that there is no physical proof for such lamps, that the ever burning lamps are merely the stuff of legend. Nevertheless, be it the work of extraterrestrials, human sages, or simply non-existent, the ever burning lamps will probably continue to be a mystery for a long time to come.
Top image: There are stories of ever burning lamps throughout history and in different parts of the world. Source: Kanea / Adobe Stock
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