In the years before electricity, cultures around the world used oil lamps to illuminate both the night and darkened, enclosed places. A seemingly never-ending supply of oil was needed to keep these lamps burning.
But, mysteriously, there are accounts of lamps that burned without that necessary oil. These stories come from around the world: Asia, South America, North America, Greece, Italy, Great Britain, and France. Indeed, the Jewish festival of Hanukkah commemorates the miracle of lamps with only a day’s worth of oil burning for eight days.
These mysterious ever burning lamps were usually found when a tomb or other enclosed place was opened and the lamp was found burning, even though the enclosure had been sealed for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
Many early writers wrote of such lamps. For example, in the year 140 C.E., the tomb of Pallas, a son of a local Italian king, was opened and a single lamp was found burning near the corpse. Frightened, the assembly tried to put the lamp out but found that neither water nor blowing on the lamp would extinguish the flame. The lamp was finally put out when the liquid in the base of the lamp (which was determined not to be regular oil, but could not be identified) was completely removed from the lamp’s basin.
There were numerous other chronicles of similar phenomena. During the reign of the emperor Justinian, a troop of soldiers stumbled upon a lamp which, according to its inscription, had been initially lit almost 550 years earlier. The soldiers could not figure out how this could be so.
In England, following his separation from the Roman Catholic Church, King Henry VIII established the Church of England. He soon after demanded that many Catholic churches and communities be destroyed or incorporated into his new church. In one instance, the tomb of a wealthy man who had died around the year 300 C.E. was opened and was found to contain a lamp that still burned.
In the 1600s, in France, there is the written chronicle of a soldier from Switzerland who discovered a long-hidden tomb. Inside, he found a single burning lamp. He removed the lamp and it continued to burn without apparent fuel for several months until it was accidentally broken and thus extinguished.
The most enigmatic figure of the history of these puzzling lamps is arguably a 13th-century rabbi by the name of Jechiele. Written documents of the time state that there was a lamp outside his house that burned continually without any apparent supply of oil. When questioned about the workings of this miraculous lamp, Jechiele would refuse to tell of the mechanics of the lamp. And the lamp was not the only puzzling feature of the rabbi’s house. Contemporary accounts tell that the knocker on his front door could give off sparks when unwelcome visitors came to call. Modern theorists believe that Jechiele had somehow channeled a primitive form of electricity, but nobody knows for sure.
No modern instances of these ever burning lamps have been found, so science has yet to declare an explanation for the phenomena. Until such a lamp is discovered, the history of these mysterious lamps will remain just that: a mystery.