An eternal flame is a flame, lamp or torch that burns continuously for an indefinite period. Most eternal flames are ignited and tended intentionally, but some are natural phenomena caused by natural gas leaks, peat fires and coal seam fires, all of which can be initially ignited by lightning, piezoelectricity or human activity, and all of which can burn for decades or centuries.
In ancient times, human-tended eternal flames were fueled by wood or olive oil; modern examples usually use a piped supply of propane or natural gas. Eternal flames most often commemorate a person or event of national significance, or serve as a reminder of commitment to a common goal, such as international peace.
The eternal fire is a long-standing tradition in many cultures and religions. In ancient Iran the atar was tended by a dedicated priest and represented the concept of "divine sparks" or amesha spenta, as understood in Zoroastrianism. Period sources indicate that three "great fires" existed in the Achaemenid era of Persian history, which are collectively considered the earliest reference to the practice of creating ever-burning community fires.
In China, it has at times been common to establish an eternally lit lamp as a visible aspect of ancestor veneration; it is set in front of a spirit tablet on the family's ancestral altar.
The eternal flame commemorating American PresidentJohn F. Kennedy after his assassination in 1963 is believed to be the first such memorial to honor a single, known individual (as opposed to flames commemorating one or more unknown soldiers). In the wake of the Kennedy memorial, eternal flames have been used throughout the world to honor persons of national or international significance.
Around the world
A prismatically broken eternal flame at World War II memorial in East Berlin.
The eternal flame that was kept burning in the inner hearth of the Temple of Delphic Apollo at Delphi in Greece until Delphi was sacked by the Roman general Sulla in 87 BC
The Hebrew Bible commands that "The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out" (Leviticus 6:13, KJV), regarding the altar of Burnt Offering in the Tabernacle, and later the altars in Solomon's Temple and the Second Temple (the latter sacked by Rome in AD 70). Many churches (especially Catholic and Lutheran), along with Jewish synagogues, feature an eternal flame on or hung above their altars (churches) or Torah arks (synagogues). When a church is founded, the flame is passed from another church and the candles are regularly replaced to keep the original flame burning.
An eternal flame was part of the East GermanMemorial to the Victims of Fascism and Militarism at Neue Wache in East Berlin. It was removed after the 1990 German reunification. In 1993, the space was redesigned and rededicated (without a flame) as the Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Victims of War and Tyranny.
The Olympic Flame is a kind of eternal flame which is kept lit throughout the Olympic Games and extinguished after their closure every four years.
Paris, France, under the archway at the Arc de Triomphe, which has burned continuously since 1921, in memory of all who died in World War I, and Arras, France-Notre Dame De Lorette war memorial.
Helsinki, Finland, a flame dedicated to all travellers on the sea, espescially in troubled waters. A minor controversy arose when the flame was temporarily extinguished, to conserve gas, technically meaning the flame was not an eternal one. It has been relit however.
Highland Park, Illinois, in the "Freedom's Sacrifice" veterans memorial located on the corner of St. John Ave and Central Avenue to remember the soldier from Highland Park that gave their lives in the name of freedom.
Pierre, South Dakota, at the Flaming Fountain (Veterans) Memorial on the shores of Capitol Lake. The flame is part of a fountain; the combination of fire and water is especially striking after dusk.
Auburn, California, on the corner of Fulweiler St. and Nevada St. depicts a soldier carrying a fallen comrade. The statue is named 'Why'.
Columbus, Ohio, at Battelle Riverfront Park, to honor fallen members of the Columbus Fire Department.
Clinton, Ohio, at Ohio Veterans Memorial Park , This monument is made up of a large sitting area that will be surrounded by benches, a four tier waterfall, a walkway, a fifty foot wide pond, a black granite POW/MIA monument, an inverted Vietnam War helmet with the eternal flame and a cast steel POW/MIA seal generously donated by Rolling Thunder.