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
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.
- Santiago Day, Jul. 25.
- Assumption of Mary, Aug. 15.
- All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1.
- Feast of Christ the King.
- Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8.
- Moving of the body of the Apostle Santiago, Dec. 30.
As we mentioned when talking about the church of Santa Maria de Eunate, there is a church in the nearby village of Olcoz with an almost identical portico. This unique fact in romanesque art has caused lots of legends to sprung around these two works; here we will recount one of them.
According to it, the portico in Santa Maria de Eunate was started by a master sculptor from the templar order, who after doing a large part of the work, had to leave for unspecified reasons. The local authorities called another local sculptor to finish the work, which he managed to do in only three days (according to some versions, this second sculptor was a giant, which would explain a lot, as we’ll see).
When the original sculptor came back from his voyage, he was angered by what he saw as an usurpation of his work. The local authorities challenged him then an identical portico in the same time that it took his substitute. Faced with such a challenge, the master had to resort to the black arts.
(Pictures courtesy of TaxNavarra).
It was the midsummer night (St. John’s day). Following the advice of a witch that lived close to the nearby river Nekeas, the master hid himself close to the river, and waited until a huge snake appeared. The snake left a moonstone that it was carrying on its mouth on the shore. The master waited until the snake had submerged into the river, then picked up the moonstone and ran away to the unworked portico, which was already raised in front of Eunate. He put the moonstone in a cup full of the river’s water, put the cup under the portico, and waited…
…And when the moon reached its apogee, the portico’s stones started taking by themselves the shapes of the sculptures, columns… that existed in the original portico, only reversed. The only problem happened when the second sculptor found out. Angered by the copy that his competitor had made in just one night, he kicked the portico with such force that it flew away from Eunate to Olcoz, where it is now…
And indeed, the current portico in Olcoz is almost identical to the one in Eunate, except that its features are reversed.
Throught the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrim can find many religious monuments (churches, monasteries…), remains of the centuries of tradition and history originated in this route. Among them, however, the Monastery of San Millán de la Cogolla is special, since it holds the honor of being considered the birthplace of the Castilian language, the most spoken language in modern Spain.
The Monastery of Suso (one of the two existing monasteries in San Millán) was, in effect, the place where the “Glosas Emilianeses”, considered the first words written in Castilian (or at least a primitive version of it), were authored. These were notes written on the margin of latin codexes, in order to clarify words or expressions from the main text. Some of these comments were also written in a primitive version of the Basque language, so they can also be considered the oldest existing Basque text.
San Millán de la Cogolla was also the working place of Gonzalo de Berceo, considered the first literary writer in castillian. His main work, “Milagros de Nuestra Señora”, was a compilation of miracles attributed to the Virgin Mary written around 1260, and is considered as one of the first literary works written in Castilian.
Due to these reasons, the Monasteries of San Millán were declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1997.
One of the best known legends associated with the Camino is the one of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, town where, as the saying goes, “the chicken crowed after being roasted” (la gallina cantó después de asada). What’s the source of this legend?
As it goes, in the XIV century, a german family was walking the Camino when they spent the night in Santo Domingo. The hostess at the inn fell in love with the son of the family, but when she was rebuffed, she falsely accused him of robbery.
The son was hanged, and the bereaved parents could only pray to the saint. The surprise took place when they retook the Camino and passed in front of their hanged son, who started speaking to them. They rushed to warn the mayor of the town, who was about to have dinner and didn’t wished to be interrupted. The impatient mayor told them: “your son is as alive as this chicken that I have in front of me…” at which point the chicken jumped and started crowing.
And this is why there are always a live rooster and chicken in Santo Domingo de la Calzada’s cathedral.
One of the most important symbols associated with the Camino is the Tau Cross, which we can see, for example, in the Glory’s Portico at the Santiago Cathedral, where the apostle is represented with a staff shaped in this way.
The cross has a long tradition behind it, starting in the egyptian and greek cultures. In the Christian era, the cross first became the symbol of St. Anthony of Egypt, and then of the congregation that bore his name, the Hospital Brothers of St. Anthony, who founded several hospices along the Camino (for example, at Castrojeriz). Later, St. Francis of Assisi also adpoted the cross as his coat of arms.
Besides all of that, the Tau Cross is also associated with a medieval navigation instrument. Jacob’s Staff, which has a shape similar to that of the cross, was used to measure the height of the stars over the horizon.
The scallop (vieira, pectinidae) is a mollusk that has turned into the symbol of the pilgrims in St. James Way. There are several theories as to why: some claim that, since it’s a species typical of Galicia, pilgrims carried them back home as proof of having reached Santiago. (Curiously, the species most often associated with the Camino, the pecten jacobaeus, is actually most common in the Mediterranean, while the species found in Galicia is another one, called pecten maximus).
Other sources, however, trace its origin to a well known medieval legend, according to which, while carrying St. James’ body to Santiago, one of the horses fell to the water and emerged covered in shells (a variant of this legend claims that, while disembarking the saint’s body, they found a knight on the beach whose horse got scared and ran to the sea, from which both emerged covered in shells).
Aside of this symbolic meaning, the shell also had a practical purpose. According to these sources, during the Middle Ages, pilgrims would carry a scallop with them and present themselves at abbeys, farms… where they would be given as much food and drink as they could pick up in one scoop.