Botafumeiro: the censer in the Cathedral de Santiago

The Botafumeiro in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela has become a famous symbol of the Camino de Santiago. Proof of this is the fact that the Botafumeiro appears on 5 peseta coins that were minted during the Holy Year of 1993.

Botafumeiro, the censer in the Cathedral de Santiago

The huge censer, with more than 800 years of history, hangs in the form of a pendulum from the ceiling of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, flying over the heads of the congregation, from the main altar to the vault of the transept. Seeing it in operation is quite a spectacle.

In this article we want to tell you everything related to the Botafumeiro in Santiago. Below we explain when it is possible to see the Botafumeiro of Cathedral of Santiago in operation. The final part of this post is dedicated to the origin and history of Botafumeiro.

If you are interested in pilgrimage to appreciate the Botafumeiro in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, we recommend the Camino de Santiago from Sarria. Leave your information and details of the trip you would like to take and we will contact you.









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When to see the Botafumeiro in Santiago

In the old days, it was possible to see the Botafumeiro in the Cathedral of Santiago in operation, almost every day. However, the restoration carried out in 2006 highlighted the wear and tear of the rope and the censer with daily use.

That led to a significant restriction on the number of displays of the huge incense pendulum. Here’s when it’s possible to see Santiago’s huge Botafumeiro in operation.

Designated Mass days when you can see the Botafumeiro

There are only 12 masses a year in which Botafumeiro always comes into operation. It’s the so-called solemn masses. These are:

  • The Epiphany (6th January)
  • Resurrection Sunday (the date is not fixed)
  • Ascension (40 days after resurrection)
  • Pentecost (50 days after resurrection)
  • Anniversary of the Battle of Clavijo (23rd May)
  • St James Apostle Day (25th May)
  • Our Lady of the Assumption (15th August)
  • All Saints Day (1st November)
  • Solemnity of Christ the King (date varies, between 20th and 26th November)
  • Immaculate Conception (8th December)
  • Christmas Day (25th December)
  • Transfer of the remains of Santiago the Apostle (30th December)

Pilgrim’s Mass

The above is the theory, in practice it is almost always possible to see the Botafumeiro in operation during the Pilgrim’s Mass. Almost every day there is a group of pilgrims who hire the Botafumeiro in honour of Santiago the Apostle.

The Pilgrim’s Mass takes place every day in the Cathedral of Santiago. There’s one at 12:00 in the morning and one at 19:30 in the evening.

The Botafumeiro during Holy Year

During the Xacobeo it is possible to see the Botafumeiro operating in the Cathedral of Santiago every Sunday of the year, during midday mass. The next Holy Year in Compostela will be in 2021.

During Holy Years, the number of Pilgrim Masses held daily also increases. Therefore, it is also easier to see the Botafumeiro in operation.

Requesting the Botafumeiro in Santiago: price

Since starting the huge censer involves costs and as the Botafumeiro is not intended to be a spectacle, but an offering to the apostle, the Cathedral of Santiago gives the option, to anyone who wishes, to request its use.

The use of Botafumeiro can be hired at any of the liturgical events held in the temple. To do this, it is necessary to pay the price of 450 euros, prior to its setting in motion.

To request the operation of the Botafumeiro, please contact the Cathedral of Santiago directly. If you are interested, you can do so via this email: [email protected]

The Botafumeiro in 2019

In 2019, the operation of the Botafumeiro was suspended due to the renovations that were being carried out inside the Cathedral of Santiago. Until the completion of these works all liturgical events were being held in other churches in the city.

Origin and history of the Botafumeiro

If you want to stay informed about when the huge incense of Compostela will work again, you can consult the webpage of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. At present, it is not known when the repairs are expected to be completed.

Origin and history of the Botafumeiro in Santiago Cathedral

Although, today, the role of the Botafumeiro is to highlight the solemnity of certain liturgical acts, it is believed that, in its origins, it was installed to disguise the bad smell of the many pilgrims who stayed overnight in the Cathedral. Hence its size is especially large.

It is not known exactly the date on which the first Botafumeiro was installed in the Cathedral of Santiago. However, it is believed that its use could be traced back to the 11th century, as in the Codex Calixtinus, the oldest book about the Camino de Santiago, already made references to the huge censer (Turibulum Magnum).

As documented by the parchment, during the Middle Ages, the Botafumeiro hung from wooden beams, located in the dome of the Cathedral of Santiago. In the year 1200, the Botafumeiro operated with a system of rollers that allowed the censer to perform a lateral movement of 150 centimetres, which was the measurement of the rope from which the pendulum hung.

The second Botafumeiro in Santiago

In the 15th century, the French monarch Louis XI financed the construction of a silver censer, to replace the original medieval piece. However, its construction was not carried out until the mid-16th century.

In the early 17th century, Master Celma designed the mechanism that can be seen today. A pulley-based system, which follows the law of the pendulum.

The two modern–day censers

In 1809, during the War of Independence, Napoleonic troops stole the Botafumeiro from the Cathedral of Santiago. 40 years later, in 1851, the current Botafumeiro was manufactured in brass.

This replica was the work of José Losada. The huge censer measures 1.60 metres and originally weighed 60 kilos.

Two centuries later, in 1971, la Hermandad de Alféreces Provisionales (the Brotherhood of Provisional Military Officers) gave the Cathedral of Santiago another copy of the Botafumeiro stolen by Napoleon’s troops. This is made entirely of silver and its weight is 52 kg.

In 2006, the Botafumeiro from the 19th century was restored and silver plating was added. Thus, its weight increased to 62 kilograms, when empty.

Botafumeiro in Santiago Cathedral

Today, the Botafumeiro used is, generally, the oldest. The silver piece donated later is only used when the old one is being restored. In the meantime, it is being exhibited at the Cathedral Museum.

With regard to the rope that holds the Botafumeiro from the roof of the Santiago Cathedral, as if it were a pendulum, it should be noted that, today, it is of synthetic origin and not of hemp and esparto, as it was centuries ago. The weight of the rope is 90 kg and has a length of 65 metres.

How the Botafumeiro in Santiago Cathedral works

During the liturgical acts in the Cathedral of Santiago, the Botafumeiro is launched after Communion, the moment in which the baroque organs of the temple begin to sound with the Apostle’s Hymn.

To start the Botafumeiro de Santiago, it is filled with approximately 400 grams of charcoal and incense. The censer is then tightly tied to the long rope hanging from the ceiling.

Its displacement is possible thanks to the mechanism of pulleys and the initial impulse provided by the “Tiraboleiros”, a name given to the 8 men who give the first push to the Botafumeiro to launch it.

Afterwards, each of the tiraboleiros pulls various ends of the rope, to provide speed to the Botafumeiro. Its speed can reach 68 km/h, in just a minute and a half.

Once in operation, the Botafumeiro makes 17 swings, from the Azabachería door to the Platerias door. Flying over a maximum height of 21 metres. A spectacular scene that leaves an indelible memory on all those who witness it.

Accidents with the Botafumeiro

No wonder this beautiful, but huge beast has suffered some accidents throughout its history. Luckily, none of them have caused great physical, or deadly, damage.

Broken ropes

25th July 1499, The Day of Santiago the Apostle, a mass was being held in honour of Princess Catherine of Aragon. During the operation of the Botafumeiro, the chains that held it were broken and flew off, until it crashed at the Platerias Door. On that occasion, there were no injuries.

23rd May 1622, the ropes broke again. This time, the huge artefact crashed to the ground, endangering the safety of the tiraboleiros. Luckily, none of them were hurt.

Accidents

It is not known whether there were any accidents in ancient times, but during the last millennium, there is evidence of two such incidents. The first of these involved one of the altar servers. He paid no attention to the Botafumeiro, and the huge censer ran him over, leaving him with a broken nose and a few broken ribs.

The second involved a group of Germans who had taken advantage of their visit to Santiago to hire the services of the Botafumeiro. Marveling at the show, they got so close, that the censer ended up brushing the face of one of its members, breaking their nose.

For the moment, we leave it here. We hope you found everything we have told you about the Botafumeiro of Santiago de Compostela interesting. If so, don’t hesitate to share this article with your friends on Facebook.

To say goodbye, we just want to remind you that if you would like to do one of the Camino de Santiago routes and want to have a specialized agency to help you organize your trip, do not hesitate to contact us. You can call us, leave a comment on our blog or use the chat page on our Facebook. Our team will be delighted to help you.

Buen Camino!