Corpse candles: Ghosts of Wales on the radio

Ghosts of Wales by Mark Rees: A Welsh graveyard with corpse candles
Ghosts of Wales: A Welsh graveyard with corpse candles. Art by Sandra Evans,

Corpse candles are mysterious spectral lights which have haunted the lonely roads of Wales for centuries.

I recently recorded a piece all about these ‘canwyll corff’ as part of BBC Radio Wales’s series of Christmas ghost stories, which will be broadcast twice on Friday, December 21, 2018, and on BBC iPlayer soon afterwards.

Here’s a brief description of these ominous death portents taken from Ghosts of Wales: Accounts from the Victorian Archives:

The ghostly lights, which are interpreted as a sign of impending death, were common throughout Wales, but were particularly prevalent in ‘the counties of Cardigan, Carmarthen, and Pembroke’. They are called candles for ‘their resemblance, not to the body of the candles but the fire’.

The candles are said to travel on a fixed route, possibly the same path a sick or a dying person will follow on the way to their upcoming funeral, and will change in appearance if they come within close proximity of a human being:

‘In their journey, these candles are sometimes visible and sometimes disappear, especially if anyone comes near to them, or in the way to meet them. On these occasions they vanish, but presently appear again behind the observer, and hold on their course.’

The colours, quantities, and the direction of the corpse candles can also affect their meaning: ‘Sometimes these candles point out the places where persons shall sicken and die. They have also predicted the drowning of persons passing a ford.’

For more about corpse candles, and the Welsh equivalent of the Halloween Jack-o’-lantern, Jac y Lantern, check out Ghosts of Wales: Accounts from the Victorian Archives.