Imagine a cathedral full of people, pilgrims, from all over the world that have spent weeks or months walking. And back in the day, with limited to no access to water for washing up…
To clean the air when these crowds of pilgrims arrived in Santiago de Compostela after their long journey, the Cathedral used a giant censer or thurible, the ‘Botafumeiro’. The 62kg censer swings through the air dispensing clouds of incense. The ‘Botafumeiro’ forms an impressive 65-metre long arched trajectory along the cathedral for around minute and a half, sometimes reaching 68km per hour and suspended at 20 meters above the ground; it is pulled by 8 men (‘tiraboleiros’) using a complex mechanism of ropes and pulleys.
This censer dates back to 1851 and it’s made of silver-plated brass. It is not swung during every mass but rather on Sunday 12:30pm mass, special occasions or if someone pays the 400€ donation.
An enormous swinging lump of silver is not without its disasters. It is said that the first one was when Princess Catherine of Aragon visited in 1499. Whilst being swung, the rope that held the Botafumeiro snapped and the giant piece of metal flew out of the cathedral through a window. Supposedly, no one was injured by the censer.
The second incident is said to have been in July 1937 when the cords holding the Botafumeiro failed and hot coals toppled onto the floor.
The current operation of the ‘Botafumeiro’ is to attach its ropes with sturdy sailor’s knots which means that pilgrims, tourists and church goers can be at ease when watching this amazing spectacle.