Also known as a gallows lamp because of its shape, it was the loyal companion of every shoemaker, from St. Michael to St. Gregory. Round glass flasks were filled with water or alcohol, projecting light on to the shoemaker’s worktop as if through a lens.
The lamps could usually be seen immediately when entering the workshop, signifying the status and quality of each shoemaker. “The master or workshop owner would sit facing the largest flask. His assistants would face the two slightly smaller ones, while the apprentice was allowed to use the smallest flask as a special honour,” explained Jernej Kosmač, a shoemakers’ lamp expert and maker of replicas. According to him, the best light comes from flasks filled with “schnapps” or “the green spirit” – and the merrier shoemakers were experts at making the most of it. “As soon as the master left the workshop, they would treat themselves to a little taste. When the master noticed that the flasks were considerably emptier than before, he would know immediately what was going on,” said Kosmač.
The lamp brought together not just shoemakers but their families as well; more often than not, the workshop was situated on a low platform in the kitchen. There was never a dull moment with a shoemaker around – they worked hard, but they certainly knew how to have fun.
As the days grew longer, the lamps were no longer needed, so they would be thrown (symbolically) into the water. To this day, the tradition has been preserved in Tržič: on the eve of the feast day of St. Gregory, the Tržiška Bistrica river is alive with “St. Gregory’s lamps” or “gregorčki”, neat little handmade houses and other vessels carrying a burning candle.
The gallows lamp came close to being forgotten, but years ago it gained an enthusiastic admirer who has given it a new life. Jernej Kosmač and his son Matej have found worldwide success with their replicas of the shoemakers’ lamp. Their lamps are even exhibited in museums in Tokyo and Los Angeles.
Although the shoemakers’ lamp lost its original purpose with the advent of electricity and is now used merely for decoration, it still fulfils part of its mission – bringing people together.