“Developing the fragrances keeps leading me deeper into the lives of the saints as well. As I’m developing these fragrances I’m also praying their litanies, reading more about their lives… I knew right away the first saints I wanted to honor and how I thought their candles would smell.”
Katie Warner interviews Catholic artists and artisans about their crafts, asking how their art impacts the Church and their faith impacts their work.
Tell me a little about who you are and about your craft.
I am a Midwest girl through and through, and my husband and I recently got to move back home to Kansas City after living on the East Coast for nine years. With a lot of hope and hard work, I’m building a new business hand making beautiful candles with a signature line of fragrances inspired by saints and the Catholic faith.
When did you start making candles? What inspired you to do this as a career, part-time work, ministry, or hobby?
The inspiration for the candles came from St. Joseph—he gets all the credit! For more than a year, I’ve been praying to him to help me find a job that is both creative and will enable me to work with my hands. (My “day job” involves little creativity and requires being behind a computer all day.) During Mass a few months ago, I was thinking about St. Joseph’s life and suddenly had the idea for these candles. It seemed to happen in an instant—having the idea for the company and also the “recipes” for the first three candle fragrances, which are inspired by St. Joseph, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, and St. Damien of Molokai. The saints can sometimes feel a bit abstract from us and our day-to-day lives, but scent is such a powerful thing and can connect us to the world and others.
How does your faith influence your art?
Since my faith is part of everything—how I see and understand myself, others, the world—it definitely influences my work. Of course, my love for the saints comes into play with each unique fragrance, but my faith also drives the business decisions I make and the ingredients I use. For example, I’m developing a custom blend of pure coconut wax and beeswax so I don’t have to use paraffin or soy due to their health and environmental concerns. I’m also very intentional with how I describe and label the candles, so that folks can understand the ingredients and process. There’s a lot of word trickery out there in candlemaking that’s deliberately misleading, and it’s seductive because it seems to promise sales. I don’t want to play that game.
Also, the business name, CORDA, is taken from the Mass, when the priest says, “Lift up your hearts.” In Latin, that’s “sursum corda” and literally it means “Hearts up!” This reminds us of our duty to worship God, which is also our joy. And I love how the heart is a source of strength and courage—think of the phrases “heart of a lion” or “she has a lot of heart.” The name also gives a nod to where I make the candles, in the heartland.
How does your art impact your faith?
Something I knew from the beginning is that I did not want to make a “Catholic candle” — one that hits you over the head with piety. It’s important to me that each candle should first be a good candle in and of itself. My hope is that anyone could pick up a CORDA candle and appreciate the fragrances, the ingredients, and that it is made by hand. For folks who know the saints, they will understand the connection from the scents and the candle names, which are kind of like a secret code. There’s a “Compline” candle with calming fragrances, for example, inspired by the night prayer of the Divine Office. And the one for St. Thérèse of Lisieux is called “Shower of Roses” and smells like a blossoming rose garden washed in rain. The candles bridge the gap between the secular and the sacred: they have a classic aesthetic and are made from clean, sustainable waxes, and they also highlight the richness of the faith.
Developing the fragrances keeps leading me deeper into the lives of the saints as well. I mentioned that I knew right away the first saints I wanted to honor and how I thought their candles would smell, but as I’m developing these fragrances I’m also praying their litanies, reading more about their lives, etc.
Can you pick a favorite work you’ve done recently? Tell me a little about it.
I’ve loved St. Kateri since I was very little and she is my confirmation saint, so her candle is quite personal to me. Because of her title “Lily of the Mohawks,” I had an initial idea of what it would smell like, but that idea hasn’t worked so well in reality. There’s a lot of trial and error during the development phase! So, I’m working on other fragrance combinations and am really excited about the new direction.
Why do you think Catholic art has such an important role to play in the Church?
Art itself is sacramental: it makes visible an invisible reality. Light and candles are so significant to our faith and are great examples of this!
Art can give insight into ourselves and the world in a way we couldn’t otherwise see, and because it exists for its own sake, simply for the goodness of itself, it draws us closer to God in a unique way.
To whom do you turn for inspiration?
My husband Michael has been really amazing during this process. He is so excited about and supportive of the candles and the business, and he also provides an objective view on things and is willing to push me if it will help the candles be better.
And of course, I wouldn’t even be here without St. Joseph! His quiet strength and courage, the way he provided for his family through the work of his hands, and his trust and obedience are so compelling. The other saints who hear a lot of my prayers are Kateri, Damien, Pier Giorgio Frassati, and Our Lady of Guadalupe. All of them have candles in the works, along with about 10 other saints!
Name one piece of advice/wisdom that has had a great influence on your work.
“Lift up your hearts” from the Mass is something I return to often and find great peace in. It reminds me that Christ came to give us life abundant, and that we are made to love and worship God. This is our daily task, no matter what is going on in our life. We are always called to turn to God and give ourselves to him. The closing hymn at our wedding was “O God Beyond All Praising,” which ends with “And whether our tomorrows be filled with good or ill, we’ll triumph through our sorrows and rise to bless you still: to marvel at your beauty and glory in your ways, and make a joyful duty our sacrifice of praise.” That pretty much sums it up!
If people want to explore your work in more detail, where can they look?
You can see behind the scenes and follow the product development at @cordacandles (Instagram). And if you visit the pre-launch website at www.cordacandles.com, you can get on the email list to receive first access to the new candles and a special discount!