Beeswax candles from Golden Light Beeswax Candles in Everett, Washington on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Beeswax candles from Golden Light Beeswax Candles in Everett, Washington on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

As Christmas nears, Everett candle maker takes cues from nuns

In 2018, Katherine Hopke took over the business from a Stanwood convent. Now she sells the beeswax candles online.

EVERETT — Katherine Hopke didn’t know what to expect when she first brought her kids to volunteer at a candle store run by nuns in Stanwood about 20 years ago.

Hopke, 59, has been an Orthodox Christian since sixth grade. Even so, interacting with the nuns at the Convent of the Meeting of the Lord was new for her.

She was nervous at first. As it turned out, working alongside the nuns would prove inspirational.

The nuns’ example “just kind of simplified things for me,” Hopke said. It drove home a “bigger purpose” for living: loving others and putting faith first.

When the nuns retired in 2018, Hopke felt she had to save the candle business. She took it over, renaming it Golden Light Beeswax Candles at the nuns’ request. Now, she runs the online store from her home in Everett.

The business is busy year-round, but even moreso during the fall and winter months, Hopke said, with a particular uptick around Christmas.

Over 20 years ago, the nuns who would form the Convent of the Meeting of the Lord came to Stanwood from Brookline, Massachusetts.

In Washington, “we needed to find a way to support ourselves that would also allow us to work quietly and ‘pray without ceasing,’ which is the heart of our monastic calling,” wrote Mother Thecla, the convent’s abbess, in an email.

The transplants from Massachusetts had experience making “tapers,” or long, thin candles, at the convent in Brookline. The Massachusetts-based Holy Nativity Convent also produces candles for sale.

Katherine Hopke poses for a photo in her studio for Golden Light Beeswax Candles at her home in Everett, Washington on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Katherine Hopke poses for a photo in her studio for Golden Light Beeswax Candles at her home in Everett, Washington on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

In Stanwood, the nuns wanted to try making tealights and smaller votive candles. Finding wicks that would burn well for beeswax candles in those shapes was difficult.

Making it work took experimentation. The nuns conducted trials by making candles with different wicks, lighting them to watch how they burned.

They’d answer questions like “was the candle burning correctly, was the flame not too high or too low, and was it pooling correctly?” Mother Thecla wrote. “Was the wax too dense for the wick to burn cleanly and brightly? What was the color and natural fragrance of the wax?”

Acquaintances advised them to use wax made from paraffin because finding a wick that would work for beeswax tealights and votives “wasn’t possible.”

They tried that briefly after a lavender farm offered them a contract to make paraffin-based lavender scented candles. The process made Mother Thecla severely ill.

“We quickly learned from experience that paraffin is a petroleum product and very unhealthy to burn,” Mother Thecla recalled.

After that experience, the nuns went back to beeswax for good.

Through the testing process, they found a German-made wick that worked. The nuns named their shop Quiet Light Candles.

For Hopke and the nuns, candles are more than just a light source. Candles have a connection to their faith.

Katherine Hopke pours candles for her business Golden Light Beeswax Candles at her home in Everett, Washington on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Katherine Hopke pours candles for her business Golden Light Beeswax Candles at her home in Everett, Washington on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Orthodox Christians traditionally light a beeswax candle as a prayer when they enter a church, Hopke said.

“In our understanding, the purpose of life is to little by little become a vessel of God’s grace,” Mother Thecla explained. “Candles represent this, for by lighting one candle from another, the light is never diminished but continues to grow and spread.”

Running the shop in Stanwood allowed the nuns to connect with the locals. They would spend weeks setting up for Christmas, “an especially joyous event” at the store, Mother Thecla said.

“The shop was a place of joy for us,” she said. Those who came in could try their hand at pouring candles themselves.

People came from all over the area for the Christmas sale, Hopke said. For many families, going to Stanwood became a tradition.

The rustic store was “like stepping into this other world,” she said.

Leaving the business in 2018 was a difficult decision for the nuns.

“Keeping up with the candle production, mail order, gift shop and the acreage of the property meant that two things were being neglected — our health and our prayer life,” Mother Thecla wrote.

After praying about it, they felt God “was instructing us to ‘lighten the ship,’” she said. So they sold the business and downsized, moving from Stanwood to Camano Island.

When Hopke took over, she kept the patron saint of Quiet Light Candles: St. Phanurius.

Beeswax candles from Golden Light Beeswax Candles in Everett, Washington on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Beeswax candles from Golden Light Beeswax Candles in Everett, Washington on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

A patron saint is a “special helper and protector,” Mother Thecla explained. The nuns prayed to St. Phanurius often in the store’s early days, so “it seemed natural that he would be chosen” as its patron saint.

The saint is “known to help find and reveal things,” Mother Thecla said. Her convent published a book dedicated to St. Phanurius this year.

The patron saint is just one way Hopke has kept the spirit of the nuns’ business alive.

She uses the same candle molds the nuns used in Stanwood. And as the nuns did before her, Hopke tests the wicks and beeswax she orders by burning them.

For beeswax, “each batch is different,” she said, since they’re made by bees from all over. She looks for color, fragrance, how well and fast it burns as well as how it was filtered.

Beeswax is getting harder to find, Hopke said, though she and her husband Michael try to get it as locally as possible. Their beeswax is always from the United States or Canada, she said.

In Hopke’s downstairs studio, she starts the votive and tealight candle-making process by putting blocks of beeswax in a box-like machine called a wax melter. Liquid wax flows from a tap in the melter into a pitcher coated with layers of beeswax from previous batches.

From there, Hopke pours the wax into the candle molds, filling them all the way to the brim. As the wax dries, it lightens in color, going from a deep honey-like hue to a rich golden yellow.

Hopke prays as she works, making hundreds of candles at a time.

Candles from Quiet Light Candles that Katherine Hopke took over and now calls Golden Light Beeswax Candles at her home in Everett, Washington on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Candles from Quiet Light Candles that Katherine Hopke took over and now calls Golden Light Beeswax Candles at her home in Everett, Washington on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

When the candles are burned, they’ll retain the distinct, sweet smell of beeswax.

The online store also carries tapers, candle holders and specialty candles shaped like trees, or hearts, among other products. It also sells the convent’s book on St. Phanurius.

For Mother Thecla, Hopke carrying on the nuns’ tradition is “wonderful.”

“We put our whole hearts into Quiet Light Candles daily for about 15 years and it was sad to close,” she wrote, “but Katherine and her family stepped in and said ‘This is part of our story too, and we want it to continue.’”

Sophia Gates: 425-339-3035; sophia.gates@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @SophiaSGates.

To purchase a candle:

Visit the Golden Light Beeswax Candles website at goldenlightbeeswaxcandles.com.

Candle prices start at $6 for 13 birthday candles and go up to $228 for a tray of 60 votive candles.

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