The world's greatest incenser swings for Pope

Pope Benedict has just enjoyed one of the great spectacles of European Catholicism -- the swinging of the giant incense-burner of Santiago de Compostela cathedral, known as the botafumeiro (roughly, "smoke-launcher").

Five feet high, weighing 60 kilos, and reaching speeds of 40 miles an hour as it swings 65 feet high across the cathedral nave, the botafumeiro was used in the Middle Ages to purify the air of the cathedral made disagreeable by stinking, sweaty pilgrims. 

The first record of it appears in the world's first tourist guide book, the 12th century Codex Calixtinus, which calls it a Turibulum Magnum. There have been various botafumeiros in the cathedral's 800-year history; the one used today dates from 1851.

Its alarming acceleration and speed are achieved by eight men, known as the tiraboleiros, splendidly dressed in dark red tunics -- they belong to a special fraternity -- pulling down 20 times on a set of ropes while the chief of the tiraboleiros cries out "Una, una, una" to make sure they're all (if you'll excuse the pun) pulling together.

How that causes it to swing in a great arc, I'll leave for the mechanics to explain.

The incense used today for perfuming the Pope is an especially aromatic mixture, brought over especially from Peru.

Judging by Benedict XVI's delighted expression, and the warmth of his reception, the crowds lining the streets of Santiago, and some choice words delivered, as ever, with intelligence and directness, the start of this brief trip has been a success. 

I'll report again during the Mass in a few hours' time which the Pope will be celebrating in the cathedral plaza before 7,000 faithful.

 

 

 

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Pope Francis, in Milan on March 25, sought to strengthen their faith and to address the dissatisfaction among young people and families due to economic difficulties, which creates fertile soil for populist movements.
Gerard O'ConnellMarch 25, 2017
Pope Francis said opportunity can come by restoring “the pillars” on which the union was first founded.
Gerard O'ConnellMarch 24, 2017
Some of the tensions still troubling Liberian life have deep social and historical roots.
Kevin ClarkeMarch 24, 2017
“This bill is catastrophic for Catholic social teaching and particularly for the people who we’re called to serve,” Sister Carol Keehan said.
Michael O'LoughlinMarch 24, 2017