During Medieval times in Wales, it was said that a small, blue or yellow light would appear at a person’s house on the evening before his or her death. Floating close to the ground, it would then travel the path that the body would be carried to its grave. This legend originated with the creation of corpse roads, also called coffin roads and corpse ways.
In order to maintain power despite a steadily increasing population, the Catholic church mandated that only the churches at the center of the parish held burial rights. Therefore, the dead from outlying towns could only be buried in the main parish. To make this possible, coffin roads were created. They were long, straight roads that seemed to ignore geographical features and cut through mountains and rivers.
If the deceased person was a person of prominence or wealth, they could be transported via a cart or wagon, but most people couldn’t afford this and needed to be carried. The road was always straight, because it was said that spirits naturally move in a straight line and any unexpected curves would inhibit their ability to travel. Because of this, the funeral procession was often a long and difficult journey.
A large number of dead bodies were carried along these corpse ways and many people have reported paranormal phenomena because of this.
One of the most interesting tales from the corpse roads is that of the corpse candle. According to numerous accounts and stories, corpse candles are blue or yellow lights that travel close to the ground and are seen as omens of an upcoming death. Legend has it that a corpse candle travels along the coffin road from the house of the person that is about to die to the site of their burial. Other sources have suggested that a corpse candle travels from the location of the death to the site of the burial.
The size of a corpse candle is also very important. A larger one would represent the death of an adult, while a very small one would represent the death of an infant. Although there is some debate about how to know who a corpse candle appears for, it seems to be either a person in the house it begins at or the person who is witnessing the candle. In addition, any interference with a corpse candle’s path was seen as causing bad luck that often resulted in death.
While most of the time a corpse candle travels in a straight line along the coffin road, it’s said that they always travel the exact route that the corpse will be carried. There have been several accounts of corpse candles strangely going off course and traveling routes that seem impossible for a funeral procession to follow. One account states that a corpse candle traveled along the corpse road but then diverged from the course and traveled over hedges and the church wall, seemingly without reason. The following day, during the funeral procession, snow and wind caused the coffin to be carried along the exact same route.
Some stories have said that people have witnessed three or more corpse candles hovering in one location. This possibly represents that multiple deaths will happen in this place.
For example, one tale says that a group of travelers spotted three corpse candles hovering above a river. The next day, three men fell out of their small boat and drowned in the exact same spot.
While it may seem like a terrible thing to know that you’re about to die, it was actually a blessing in Medieval times. Having a “good death”, by having the opportunity to prepare yourself spiritually and mentally beforehand, was highly valued. Nowadays, people tend to fear death. And corpse candles, while more considered legend now than reality, are regarded with fear.
While there are many possible explanations for corpse candle sightings, such as luminous insects, nobody really knows the truth. It’s curious that this phenomenon tends to occur around corpse roads, where so much death has traveled, and has rarely been reported happening elsewhere. Do corpse candles truly exist or were they just a way to explain what could not be understood at the time?