10 Things you need to know about Botafumeiro (Thurible)


It flies but it is not a superhero. It fumes, but it is not angry. It smells of Frankincense but it is not Gaspar the Wise man. We are talking about the Botafumeiro, the most famous thurible in Spain and, possibly, one of the most famous in the world. These are the 10 things you need to know about it. Take notes, this will be part of your pilgrim exam!

Botafumeiro gif by VOJO

1. In Galician, Botafumeiro means literally  “smoke diffuser”.

2. It can be considered- and it is actually considered- an art object in its own right. It is part of applied arts in religious art, along with stain glass, monstrances, chalices, some types of textiles, and even some armours.

3. It is not a small object, by any measure. It weighs 62 kg and it is  1.60 metres tall. The reason for its enormous size is the point 6 in this list.

Foto: Santiago Hernández (Flickr)

Photo: Santiago Hernández (Flickr)

4. Santiago has had a swinging incense burner since the eleventh century, although not with the same features of today. The current design dates from the sixteenth century (1554). According to the Calixtine Codex, it was then called “Turibulum Magnum”, or the Big Thurible.

5. The first Thurible was made of silver, paid for by Louis XI of France, but it was stolen by the French Army during the Spanish War of Independence in 1809.

6. Its function has always been liturgical, but its size has nothing to do with it. The size has more to do with the need to cover the bad smells of the hundreds of pilgrims who gathered in the cathedral and were allowed to sleep there. Bear in mind that relaxing showers had not always been as popular as they are today.

Foto: Frank jakobi (Flickr)

Photo: Frank jakobi (Flickr)

7. Currently there are two Thuribles: the one used habitually (which in fact is the one that substituted the original one, that was stolen), made of tin and silver-plated, from 1851, by José Losada; and  there is also a copy, in pure silver, that is kept in the library of the cathedral.

8. It is in use every Friday at 19:30, as part of the pilgrim offering. This is possible thanks to the cooperation of the city of Santiago´s Cathedral, Town Hall,  Consortium, Chamber of Commerce and the Association of Hospitality Businesses. It is also possible to see it working in special days, or you can book a reservation to see it ( you can find more details of this at the end of this post).

9. Eight people are needed to operate the Botafumeiro (thurible), they are calledtiraboleiros, they use a system of pulleys to maneuver it. The tiraboleiro mayor (main thurible) is the person in charge of setting the pace of the swinging.

Foto: Contando Estrellas (Flickr)

Photo: Contando Estrellas (Flickr)

10. In all its existence there has only been three accidents. In two occasions, 1499 and 1622, it set off flying when one of the ropes broke, but there were no casualties. The third accident happened in the twentieth century, when one person got closer that it was permitted and got hit by it, the result, a few broken bones.

That´s all for today, folks! Well, nearly. I leave you a spectacular video of the swinging Botafumeiro by Planet Doc, recorded with a GoPro camera. You can watch the whole documentary in Youtube, but do not forget me! Share this post if you enjoyed it and follow Vojo in Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Be good to me… I´m trying to earn my bacon here.

Cover Photo: Juantiagues (Flickr).
Translation: Elvira Sánchez.


About Author

Sergio De Arriba

Graduado en Historia del Arte, trabajo como Gestor de Contenido Cultural y arquitecto de rutas en VOJO, aunque de vez en cuando también realizo vídeos corporativos e ilustraciones. En este blog mi intención es mostraros el Arte de la forma más atractiva y sencilla posible, alejándome de descripciones complejas pero sin olvidar los métodos científicos que acompañan a la teoría artística.

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