The botafumeiro

We start the year in this blog talking about one of the elements most closely associated with the Compostela pilgrimage: the botafumeiro, the enormous incense burner (or thurible) in Santiago Cathedral that swings

Botafumeiro

What does “botafumeiro” mean?

The name “botafumeiro”, in galician language, means “smoke expeller”, though strictly speaking, a more correct expression would be “bota fume” or “fumeiro”.

Where does it come from?

The botafumeiro was installed in Santiago cathedral for the first time in the XIII or XIV century, in order to alleviate the odor caused by the masses of pilgrims that spent the night at the cathedral after their long voyage. Santiago wasn’t the only place with a similar device: in the past, the cathedrals of Orense, Zamora and Tuy also had their own botafumeiros. Nowadays, however, it’s only used in the latter in special occasions (and in Santiago, of course).

Through history, the temple has had four botafumeiros: the first one was used until 1530, when a new one was made of silver thanks to a donation from king Louis XI of France. This one, however, was stolen by the french troops during the Peninsular Wars in 1809, and it was replaced by a new one made of iron that was in comission until 1851, when the current one was built by José Losada, the same craftsman who made the urn where the remains of the apostle Santiago are kept.

What is the size of the botafumeiro?

The botafumeiro weights 80 kg. and measures 1.60 m. of height. Every time it’s used, it has to be filled with 40 kg. of charcoal and incense.

When the botafumeiro is used, seven “tirabuleiros” pull the ropes and make it swing, thanks to the elaborate system of pulleys in the cathedral. The botafumeiro swings for about 15 minutes, which is the time it takes for the priests to walk around the nave and aisles of the cathedral.

When can I see the botafumeiro?

The botafumeiro is used oficially during the opening and closing of the Holy Year of Jubilee, as well as in the most important religious celebrations. During the year 2016, these will be:

  • Epiphany, Jan. 6.
  • Easter (Resurrection Sunday).
  • Feast of the Ascension.
  • Apparition of the Apostle Santiago – Clavijo, May 23.
  • Pentecost.
  • Santiago Day, Jul. 25.
  • Assumption of Mary, Aug. 15.
  • All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1.
  • Feast of Christ the King.
  • Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8.
  • Christmas.
  • Moving of the body of the Apostle Santiago, Dec. 30.