The Botafumeiro is a famous thurible found in the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral . Incense is burned in this swinging metal container, or “incensory”. The name “Botafumeiro” means “smoke expeller” in Galician.
A Pilgrim’s Mass is held each day at noon for pilgrims in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims who received the Compostela the day before or by 12:00 noon on the day have their countries of origin and the starting point of their pilgrimage announced at the Mass.
The musical and visual highlight of the mass is the synchronisation of the beautiful ‘Hymn to Christ’ with the spectacular swinging of the huge Botafumeiro.
One tradition has it that the use of a swinging censer in the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral began in the 11th century. Arriving pilgrims were tired and unwashed and until 1786, used to eat and sleep in the cathedral and were crowded together.
Dispersing incense smoke inside the church under these conditions was probably a reasonable approach to combat the bodily odours of the accumulated masses. It was also believed that incense smoke had a prophylactic effect in the time of plagues and epidemics. Of course, incense burning is also an important part of the liturgy, being an “oration to God”, or form of prayer.
The present Botafumeiro is made of an alloy of brass and bronze and is plated by a very thin 20 micrometre layer of silver. The current Botafumeiro was created by the gold and silversmith José Losada in 1851. It has a golden sheen and silver censer.
The Santiago de Compostela Botafumeiro is one of the largest censers in the world, weighing 80 kg and measuring 1.60 m in height. It is normally on exhibition in the library of the cathedral, but during certain important religious occasions it is brought to the floor of the cathedral and attached to ropes hung from the pulley mechanism.
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