How Big Are Votive Candles? And What Are They Used For?

If you yourself are religious or have come from a religious background, then the concept of a votive candle will not be unusual. A small white cylindrical candle lit alongside an act of prayer or devotion as a physical representation of more complex spiritual thoughts.  Many people will have memories of prayers or thoughts offered up in the lighting of one of these small candles within a church.

If you are not familiar with the religious use of a votive candle you may be a bit perplexed by those aspects of its use. Maybe you recognize it more as an option offered by commercial or artisan candle companies knowing perhaps that it is a descriptive term for a cylindrical candle often in a glass casing. Bigger than the tealight and birthday candles but smaller than pillar or altar candles.

Equally, you may be starting from scratch and wondering, “hey wait a minute, isn’t a candle just…well… a candle?”  The term votive may be completely new but chances are at some point you have come across one or been in a house where a stash of them is kept handy for emergencies even if you didn’t know that is what they were called!

No matter where you are, we have put together a guide below on all things votive. From size, weight, and height to what kind of color and wax options there are. We have you covered.  This diminutive, little member of the candle family has an interesting history and a variety of applications and uses but do read on to find out more.

Votives are typically small cylindrical candles of around 2.5 inches in height and 1.5 inches in diameter. They melt as they burn and have to be placed in a holder or casing. They are particularly popular in religious settings but have equally become favorable in home décor.

What is a Votive Candle?

When browsing for candles online you might come across a plethora of different names and types of candles.

Often votive candles are notably different owing to the fact they are often sold already encased glass into which the wax has been poured and set. This is not always the case as they do sometimes come without a holder and instead can be placed into a dish or cup.

A votive is traditionally white and unscented. They are small cylindrical candles that are about 2.5 inches tall and around 1.5 inches in diameter. They are often made of paraffin, soy, or beeswax with a traditional wick. The reason the votive requires a cup or casing is that as the flame burns the wax dissolves into oil to fuel the flame.

Votives are most traditionally associated with religious settings. However, in more recent years scented versions with decorative casings have become a popular option in home décor. More modern variations can be larger in size and may employ less common oils such as coconut oil.

Why is it called a Votive Candle?

The word “votive” is defined as a descriptive term to denote the expression of a vow, wish or desire.  Over time the use of these little cylindrical candles became so synonymous with religious offerings that a “votive candle” became the noun relating to the lighting of a vigil light in prayer.

Many religions have associations with the lighting of candles and the symbolism of light in worship. However, the votive candle is perhaps most easily recognizable as part of Catholicism. Catholics often purchase a votive candle from the church, they light them in part of prayer often in the presence of their priest. This can aid in supporting church funds or charity endeavors. Votives continue to burn in their holder once the prayer is complete and often after the person has left the church, however, the ongoing flame symbolizes that the prayer’s intention or wish continues even after the prayer itself has concluded.

How many oz is a Votive Candle?

The weight of a votive candle can differ significantly depending on whether it is a traditional church votive or a more modern version for home use.

Religious votives are often smaller and will only have between 2.7oz and 3oz in total. More modern decorative variations will generally have a wider diameter. This means they will require more wax to fill the mold or glass casing. Some of the scented variations can be as much as 8.5oz and will of course provide a much longer burn time.

Fundamentally part of the charm of a votive candle is its smaller size. This is what allows several of them to be placed close together on an altar or scattered around a room to create an ambiance of many softly flickering flames. This can provide a feeling of calm and serenity, which is why they are so applicable within religious settings.

What do you put a Votive Candle in?

As already mentioned a votive can come already packaged in a glass or acrylic casing, but they can often be purchased “naked”. If your votive is not already in a casing then it is important to place it in a suitable container. A votive is designed to melt as it burns, if it is not contained in a dish, cup, or shell the hot oil will spill and drip creating at a minimum a mess and at worst a serious fire.

Can you burn a Votive Candle without a Holder?

Quite simply no, due to the melting wax burning a votive candle without a holder is extremely dangerous. However, there are multiple options online following a simple search for “votive holder”. Multiple clear glass options pop up, with the key point of the sides being higher than the wax of the candle itself.  

If you are feeling more adventurous there is variations of mosaic glass holders or colored glass. These can enhance the light by dispersing light or shining patterns around the candle.  Hanging votive candles are a more unusual option but when hung in multiple numbers they can be favored for restaurant décor or wedding settings. Really there is as fancy an option as you are willing to pay.

The casings for votive candles in religious settings will nearly always be plain glass and occasionally red glass.

How long does a Votive Candle stay Lit?

How long a candle burns is determined by the size of the candle and the quality and type of wax used as the base.

Traditional church votive candles are fairly small and are produced in large numbers. They often use cheaper wax types to ensure affordability to parishioners. As a result, they will burn for a relatively short period of 3 to 4 hours. This is plenty long to last through a Mass or Wedding service and provides enough time for the symbolic use of light in prayers

There are larger commercial candle makers who create votives for home use or in restaurant hospitality settings. Often, they will have offerings that are made of premium wax and may be bigger in diameter and size. This allows a votive candle to burn for between 7 and 10 hours. This is better suited to outside evening socializing or mood lighting in a restaurant’s evening service.

Why do Catholics burn Votive Candles?

Votive candles are synonymous with the Catholic church, where for centuries parishioners have lit them as part of their devotion to their God.

This stems from historical Catholic tradition that light has special significance and represents that Christ has the ability to be the guiding light for his followers in the darkness.  The lighting of candles has become important in the practice of prayer and specific services such as Mass, weddings, and funerals.

Often lit votive candles will be displayed on a votive stand near the altar. This is a place where individuals can offer up any prayer. While this can be for any reason it is often associated with prayers for lost loved ones or in support of family and friends who may be going through challenging times.

Another use of votive candles in Christianity is to light a candle in honor of a statue or sacred image. The light and prayer are not honoring the statue or painting itself but rather the saint that it represents. The light from the candle is said to signify a special reverence and desire to remain present to the Lord in prayer even though we may depart and go about our daily business.

It is worth pointing out that votive candles are not the only type used in Catholic worship. Alters may include pillar candles and pew ends often have taper candles or these can be held by parishioners. Taper candles are tall thin candles that have two main purposes, to act as an individual light source and to symbolize the sharing of the Lord’s love and light by using them to light other candles.

What is the Difference between a Votive and a Candle?

Often when people discuss candles, they talk about them collectively without necessarily differentiating between types. This can easily lead to miscommunication, large pillar candles may be overkill for a tea light holder and equally birthday candles are not the order of the day for religious ceremonies. 

Candles can differ in three main domains: size, substance, and use. In terms of size, the votive sits at the smaller end of the scale, in fact, the only recognizable candle types that are smaller are the tealight and the humble birthday candle.  A votive would be dwarfed by pillar altar candles or the height of candlesticks that are favored in candelabras.

In terms of substance, as mentioned above the favored base of a votive candle is paraffin, soy, or beeswax. Unlike other more decorative candles traditional votives are often white and unscented.

Given the smaller size of votive candles, they are not for lighting large areas, they provide a gentle light in religious settings or can help with short-term lighting during a power cut.

Are Tea Lights and Votives the Same Size?

Votives can be thought of as the “big brother” to the humble tealight.  As mentioned above a votive is taller than a tealight and holds more wax. A side-by-side comparison is outlined below:

 Average HeightAverage DiameterAverage Weight
Votive2.5″1.5″2.7 – 3.0oz
Tea light0.63″1.5″0.5 – 1.0oz

The reason different candle types exist is their different usages. Tealights often come in bulk packs and are cheaply made into their pre-existing aluminum cases. This makes them great to keep on hand for power outages or some short-duration mood lighting.

Votives give a longer burn, come in a little dearer, and often have the convenience of having a more robust glass casing. As they are burned in a bigger casing there is less chance of wax spillage or mess with a votive candle.  Of course, there is always the option to go even bigger with pillar candles. Nowadays there really is a candle for just about every need or occasion.

Which is the Right Candle for your Space?

Sometimes having too many choices can pose just as much a challenge as having limited options. Perhaps you are moving into a new home and looking to incorporate candles into your new interior or maybe you have a dinner party planned and want to set the right tone.

If you really do not know where to start, breaking it down a bit can help.

Purpose: How long will you want your candle to give out light? Are you planning to stay in the yard with drinks until the small hours? You’ll be relighting tealights over and over and may wish to go bigger. Equally, if you want to add some gentle light for a few hours while you unwind in the bath then a tea light will do fine.

Shape: You may already have a candelabra or candle holder that you want to make use of. In this case, the candle you choose will be dictated by this. If you want the candle itself to be the star of the show there is a deluge of artisan made free formed or sculpted candles.

Color: Lastly you may be following a specific color scheme and this may be a decider in the type of candle or wax that you can choose from.


In summary, while the votive may have initially been synonymous with religious settings, it now is equally as popular as a truly decorative candle. Larger than the tealight without taking up unnecessary space of other larger candle types, the votive, can and should be stashed away as a backup in times of power outage.

A traditional white votive can be displayed simply in a clear glass casing or equally upgraded by the addition of any manner of creative or intricate holders. Equally, there is more choice than ever in terms of selecting a scented variation of the votive to place inside. There are variations in the color and types of wax that can be used to form the base also meaning the possibilities really are just about endless.

For those who continue to use the traditional votive candle in their devotion to a higher power, the purity of the white candle and the flickering flame can undoubtedly provide a feeling of warmth and peace.