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. 

Advertisement

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.

 

 

 

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

Advertisement

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

It is astonishing to think that God would choose to enter the world this way: as a fragile newborn who could not even hold up his own head without help.
Ginny Kubitz MoyerOctober 20, 2017
Protestors rally to support Temporary Protected Status near the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Sept. 26. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
Around 200,000 Salvadorans and 57,000 Hondurans have been residing in the United States for more than 15 years under Temporary Protected Status. But that status is set to expire in early 2018.
J.D. Long-GarcíaOctober 20, 2017
At the heart of Anne Frank’s life and witness is a hopeful faith in humanity.
Leo J. O'Donovan, S.J.October 20, 2017
Forensic police work on the main road in Bidnija, Malta, which leads to Daphne Caruana Galizias house, looking for evidence on the blast that killed the journalist as she was leaving her home, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. Caruana Galizia, a harsh critic of Maltese Premier Joseph Muscat, and who reported extensively on corruption on Malta, was killed by a car bomb on Monday. (AP Photo/Rene Rossignaud)
Rarely does the death of a private citizen elicit a formal letter of condolence from the Pope.