How to swing a thurible

Here is one way to do it:

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. angelrui says:

    This Holy Year, there is the big thurible (‘Botafumeiro: the one that throws -bota- fume -fumeiro) every day.
    And next year, not so often: just on most Sundays and Feasts
    Hopefully you could visit us in Santiago de Compostela: there are direct flights from London (Stansted)!

  2. Microtouch says:

    Wouldn’t want to step out in front of that thing when it’s swingin’. Ouch!

  3. I’ve wondered how it swings in such a precise line. There is one shot near the end where you get a top view as it slows. There’s a precision with regards to direction. I also did not expect to see it stop so quickly on such a long line. The height it reached was astonishing.

  4. gio says:

    Is there a full video of the Pope’s visit to Santiago de Compostela online?

  5. medievalist says:

    The little child in me has to ask: “Is that God’s personal thurible?”

  6. Wow! I love it!

    It would demolish our tiny church in Haugesund though, so I think Father had better stick to a regular thurible.

  7. chcrix says:

    U.S. Patent 987654321:
    Device combining the functions of a thurible and a foucault pendulum.

  8. jaykay says:

    I missed seeing the Botafumeiro in action when I was in Santiago in 2008, it not being a Holy Year and my visit didn’t coincide with a Sunday or a feast. You could buy replicas – scaled-down obviously :) – in all the tourist emporia nearby. What house wouldn’t be without one? Actually I was tempted to buy a small one but as backpack space was at a premium I let the opportunity pass.

    I love the expression on the HF’s face as he watches it gather momentum in its swing. I thought there was even slight apprehension, as his gaze follows it upwards… and back down! From what I remember seeing of the actual thing (or maybe a decommissioned one) in the sacristy it’s a substantial piece of metal.

  9. doublenan says:

    After witnessing our pastor (for the first time…he’s new since July) incense the altar with our small thurible on All Souls, well, I silently thanked God for Father’s tight grip & that the chain and its connectors held…I am 71 yrs. old & have never seen a thurible swung with such gusto!!! We most assuredly saw “…our prayers rise like incense…”!!! :^)

  10. momoften says:

    I had to show my boys this, and had forwarded it earlier this week to many of the servers at our church …. they were awed! One thought the Holy Father was thinking……” and why don’t I have one of these in Rome?”

  11. Father Flores says:

    I love the Holy Father’s expression!

  12. Jim of Bowie says:

    I thought the Holy Father’s expression was pained at times. He loathes entertainment in the liturgy.

  13. irishgirl says:

    That ‘Botafumiero’ is HUGE!
    I’m with Microtouch-I wouldn’t want to be standing in front of it! Ouch, indeed! That would knock you out!

  14. Andy F. says:

    could someone clue us in on the dark red liturgical garb the rope holders were wearing?

  15. Mike Morrow says:

    Wow! When I was an altar server more than 50 years ago, the thurible never got more than eight or ten feet above the floor. :-)

    Just what liturgy is taking place? It seems as though there was indeed a significant entertainment aspect. All the pictures of the crowd show people looking into the overhead, and there was clapping at the end.

    One must feel great affection for PP Benedict XVI as he stands by. I’d love to know what he was thinking about the whole affair.

  16. Rob Cartusciello says:

    It is a sign of nearly heroic virtue and self-possession that Pope Benedict could stand there sernely while I am certain he wanted to cry out:


    The M.C. was not quite as successful at keeping his emotions inscrutable.

    I wonder whether the Botafumiero will make its way into the Benedictine arrangement.

  17. Mashenka says:

    Well, they’ve got a lot of things wrong, and this crowd may not all come through Anglicanorum coetibus (try not to look at the Wacolytes, or whatever those ladies in the procession are) but these folks are doing their very best down in Florida, where they also lack a botafumeiro…

    Let us all pray that the Church will grow so much that every parish will be big enough to hold all the people and at least one botafumeiro…I loves ’em, I does!

  18. markomalley says:

    I can just imagine Mick Dundee’s reaction:

    “That’s not a thurible, mate. This is a thurible.”

  19. Clinton says:

    Liked the sight of Cardinal Canizares Llovera behind the Holy Father, positively *belting*
    out the hymn.

  20. Mashenka says:

    gio, I don’t know how “full” the videos are here but I’m watching a Mass in the cathedral right now and the choir seems to be singing “Nearer, My God, to Thee” in Spanish or perhaps Catalan…. very, very slowly….. It is beautiful.

  21. Is it just me, or does the Holy Father look very tired? What a heavy burden he bears on his shoulders! Please join me in saying a Hail Mary for him.

  22. Random Friar says:

    Just think — in Heaven the angels will be swinging a thurible even more majestic and glorious as the praise of the saints ascends!

  23. Mike Morrow says:

    Now I remember what this reminds me of…it’s that famous 19th century short story “The Pit and the Thurible” by Edgar Allen Po(p)e. :-)

  24. Cathomommy says:

    My 8-yr old boy LOVED seeing this! ;) Thanks for passing it on!

  25. Mashenka says:

    Well, the communion hymn in the second Mass, the one with the huge crowd outside in the Plaza, must indeed have been a Spanish version of “Nearer, my God, to Thee”, because as I watched it again, I managed to catch the opening words “Cerca de Tí, Señor”.

    The Mass of Consecration of the Cathedral is also there, the one listed here:



    “Santiago de Compostela
    “Saturday, 6 November 2010


    Click here and then click on “video”.

  26. MJ says:

    Ooooh yeah, we need one of these at our parish! :-D

  27. maynardus says:

    Best. Botafumiero. Video. Ever.

    I thought Msgr. Marini was priceless, like he was watching a tennis match! Too bad the camera didn’t pick up the inevitable conversation:

    “Guido, we HAVE to get one of these for St. Peter’s! Do you think it will fit in the trunk of the Popemobile?”

    “Holy Father, the possibilities are endless. Properly aimed, this thing could take out a half-dozen bad bishops with each swing!”

    “As usual, Guido, your sensus liturgicus is aligned with mine!”

    Even the applause-in-church didn’t offend me. Yeah – I know – but the Botafumiero is just so… COOL! So… Church Militant! One cannot help but feel that Bugnini et al would have loathed it.

    In all seriousness, does anyone know what the hymn is that is sung during the incensing?

  28. ttucker says:

    I’m sure this would be illegal in the US since someone “might get hurt.”

  29. Supertradmum says:

    This one tops the swinging experts at the Oratory and at Westminster Cathedral, who get very fancy in their swings. WOW!

    And, what is the name of the Pope’s right or, in this case, left-hand man who travels with him and seems to be always at his side in the liturgies? I was glad to see his slight smile.

  30. Carolina Geo says:

    I must admit that I was not taken by the specatcle. Yes, this crossed that line between liturgy and entertainment. What’s next – a 10-foot-tall chalice? A firehose as an aspergillum? A full-immersion lavabo? If it makes you go “Oooooh, Aaaaaah!” then it is probably misplaced during Mass.

  31. That’s a little crazy; it seems over-the-top to me. The clapping at the end…eesh.
    But that Botafumiero is *super* cool. Wow. The MC’s expression is priceless. :-D

  32. Gabrielle says:

    The look says it all.
    Too much entertainment though. Plus, would get in the way of the choreographers.

  33. Poimier says:

    Amazing, but what is the point ? And that applause, just like landing at Fiumicino.

    Clearly OTT.

    Poor Holy Father.

  34. Gabrielle says:

    The look says it all!
    Doesn’t it get in the way of the choreographers though….?

  35. John Pepino says:

    Although the incense boat is massive, I’m not sure enough incense was put into the thurible. Did you see any smoke rising from the botafumeiro, Mashenka?

  36. mila48 says:

    The hymn is the Hymn to St. James the Apostle, composed at the end of the 19th century especially for use at the cathedral on the feast of the Apostle and at the end of pilgrimages. I looked it up because I wanted to know the words and, if memory serves, it said the hym is also sung every time the botafumeiro is used. As you say, it’s awsome.
    On another note, I know many (myself included) are bothered with clapping in church because of all the abuse. But it was a Roman custom to clap whenever the Holy Father came in to the basilica back in the ’40s and ’50s.

  37. Traductora says:

    It’s pretty impressive. The Spanish really know how to do these things right!

    I walked the Camino in 2004, and when you get to Santiago, you go to the office and get your Compostela, the certificate of completion, and then to the Cathedral to give “un abrazo al Santo” (give a hug to the Saint, that is, embrace the bust of Santiago, which is in a gallery behind the altar) and then go to confession and mass. You can do this in varying order, of course, depending on when you arrive.

    The pilgrims sit around the base of the pillars during mass. The organ strikes up and then the botafumeiro comes out….and you know you’ve made it over those hundreds of miles and have gotten to the goal at last.

  38. phyllis says:

    Father Z! Catholic homeschoolers thank you for that very dramatic and unforgettable video! Censer/thurible is one of my daughter’s recent vocabulary words in her Our Lady of Victory Homeschool speller.

  39. Supertradmum says:

    Can someone answer my question about the Papal attache?

  40. Raymond says:

    @Supertradmum: Do you mean Msgr. Guido Marini (, MC of Pontifical Liturgical Ceremonies?

    Reading some of the comments here, I am dismayed that some would call a centuries-old practice a mere “entertainment”, without even bothering to research the history of the subject. The botafumeiro was mainly used to alleviate the stench from the multitudes of unwashed pilgrims that came to Santiago de Compostela.

    I’m sorry but I have to say it: a lot of American traditionalist Catholics are really uptight. Gosh, was pre-Vatican II, Irish-style Catholicism really that bad? I feel so much more at home with my Spanish and Italian brethren!

  41. Magpie says:

    Whilst it looks like fun, and the Holy Father looked amused, it also seems incredibly dangerous. If it hit you, you’d be dead or very seriously injured!

  42. mila48 says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. People are sometimes too quick to comment without knowledge. And I don’t recall pre-Vatican II being that uptight!

  43. Mashenka says:

    Da, John Pepino, the smoke begins to rise between seconds 40 and 46 of Father’s gorgeous video clip!


  44. Re: danger

    They’ve been doing this a while, so the process seems to have been perfected. Obviously there’s a pulley system up top directing the botafumeiro only on its specified path, and you noticed they had barriers at the end of the pews to keep people from getting too close. There’s all those guys controlling speed and height, who could instantly raise it; and there’s plenty of clearance under the botafumeiro’s path. So you’d have to be actively trying to commit suicide, probably, to circumvent all that, unless the rope snapped.

    However, before the current pulley system was installed, apparently the botafumeiro flew out the window when Catherine of Aragon was visiting on her way to marry Henry VIII’s soon to be dead elder brother. Nobody was hurt, but obviously it was an omen. Too bad she didn’t take the warning, poor lady!

    Wikipedia says the guys in red are “tiraboleiros”, which is Galician for “thurifers”. It also has links to cool physics simulators showing how the weird pulley system makes it swing like that.

  45. kallman says:

    the papal MC is Mgr Guido Marini. Yes the pope looks very tired (and frail) and yes he does look concerned with the trajectory of the thurible, rather than the “spectacle” of the event.

  46. laurazim says:

    I am pretty sure that’s one of the coolest things I have *ever* seen. My boy, a faithful altar server, was COMPLETELY impressed.

    @Carolina Geo–so, if My Lord in the Eucharist moves my heart to awe and wonder and an occasional “ooh, aah,” that’s inappropriate? Please. Like Raymond says, please research before you comment. I hardly think they did this for “entertainment” purposes.

  47. Emilio III says:

    According to wikipedia:

    There have been a number of accidents that occurred during the swinging of the Botafumeiro over the years. Apparently at one time, the Botafumeiro was attached to the rope with a hook which sometimes became disconnected.

    One of the most renowned accidents took place during a visit of Princess Catherine of Aragon. She was on a journey to marry the heir to the English throne in 1499 and stopped by the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. While it was being swung, the Botafumeiro flew out of the cathedral through the Platerias high window. No one was reported to have been injured on this occasion.

    The ropes and other devices securing the Botafumeiro have also failed on May 23, 1622, and more recently in 1925 and July 1937. In 1622, the Botafumeiro fell at the feet of the tiraboleiros. In July 1937, the cords holding the Botafumeiro failed again, and hot coals were spilled on the ground.

    Current procedure is to attach the rope to the Botafumeiro with a set of “sailor’s knots”.

  48. Eoin Suibhne says:

    Hmm. I’m thinking that could be very useful for keeping liturgical dancers out of the sanctuary.

  49. jflare says:

    Uh, I guess I enjoyed the show. Which is the problem, for me.
    I thought the size was impressive, though it would’ve been more impressive had they had a good deal of smoke issuing forth the entire time.
    It looked a bit too close to a flying trapeze act for me, though. Or maybe a misplaced physics demonstration? I have to ask: Were people really focused on the prayers being sent to heaven? Or were they focused on the skill involved with 7 clerics swinging a big pendulum without hitting anything (or anyone)? Given the applause, I would suggest that latter.
    Maybe I’m biased, but I thought the Holy Father looked..resigned. More like an, “OK, let’s get this over with, then get on with it”, than a, “Hey! Cool!”.

    The music was pretty good though.

  50. jflare says:

    While I understand your point, I must disagree with you. Especially in an age when noone has done any research on anything, or if they did, they were immediately chastised for challenging the “new era of ideas”, this strikes me as being reasonably inappropriate, traditional or not.

    I’m sure many will be upset with this comment, but honestly, this struck me as being fairly similar in nature to those liturgical dancers we all dislike. It’s closer to being a show than a means of bringing people to the light of Christ.

    Besides, people NEED to be uptight in this age, so long as they have good cause. One of the better criticisms I’ve heard regarding the Novus Ordo is that it tends to encourage being a little TOO relaxed. This effort “struck” me about that way.

  51. RichardT says:

    Try your hand at being a tiraboleiro on the simulator here:

    Set it to manual, give the botafumeiro a shove to get it started, and then pull on the rope to see if you can get it swinging properly.

    I love the fact that someone has bothered to create this.

    [That flash is almost as cool as the video!]

  52. Jim Dorchak says:

    Love it!
    The smile on his face is wonderful.
    Being a blacksmith, I think I will make one myself.

  53. Ttucker said: ‘I’m sure this would be illegal in the US since someone “might get hurt.”’

    That reminds me of the time a lady caught her hair on fire during the Easter vigil Mass one one of the wee candles lit from the Easter candle!

  54. jaykay says:

    ” It’s closer to being a show than a means of bringing people to the light of Christ.”

    jflare: I take your point, certainly, but while I didn’t see the Botafumeiro in action when I was there 2 years ago, from what I have read it is actually used fairly frequently, so in fact it’s just a part of the regular scenery, so to speak. No doubt any element of “showiness” on this occasion e.g. the applause was as a result of the unique circumstances i.e. the Holy Father’s visit, the larger numbers of people in an atmosphere more excited than usual etc. etc. I really wouldn’t go so far as to compare it, even tangentially, with the dreaded liturgical dancers who, after all, are a total innovation whereas a thurible – of whatever size – is a time-honoured custom and it was not the only one of its type, although I don’t think there’s any other currently in action anywhere (could be wrong?)

  55. John 6:54 says:

    Was that an episode of Vatican Fear Factor? Benedict’s got some nerves of steel.

    So if those guys holding on to the rope mess up and that thing catches the floor flying by there’s going to be a big fiery mess. I’m not sure I’d leave the Holy Father on that pedistal so close that silver fiery wrecking ball.

  56. jaykay says:

    “silver fiery wrecking ball”

    Heh heh! I did get a laugh out of that :)

    But as Emilio III points out above, there don’t seen to have been any fatalities in the remarkably small number of incidents over the centuries when it’s broken loose. Pretty good insurance record, that.

    The time it flew outa the window must have been an absolute hoot…errm, I mean a most disturbing occurrence. (cough)

  57. Would you prefer “hurtling metal bob of flaming death”?

  58. Gaz says:

    RichardT’s suggestion is fun. I bet they’ve never done 360s in Santiago de Compostela but the simulation shows it to be possible.

  59. jflare says:

    We object to liturgical dancers in no small part because dance has no particular meaning within our culture; having someone dance during Mass doesn’t seem to contribute much to the Mass, but tends to focus attention on that person or group. Not on Christ. Thus the abuse.
    When I’ve seen a thurible used, it’s been to incense the altar, the Eucharist in adoration, the tabernacle, or the people. It had a discernable meaning in those cases.
    This doesn’t appear to me to necessarily have a particular meaning. Whom or what is being incensed? The church building? The people in the transept? The air?
    It looks cool, yes. But is that why we’re at Mass?
    Are we there to receive the Eucharist and hear the Word? Or to watch several clerics demonstrate their skills with something like a holy wrecking ball?

    What does it MEAN for that thing to be swinging through the air?

  60. jaykay says:

    jflare: well, it wasn’t a Mass, it was just the Holy Father’s visit to the cathedral (where he did the things pilgrims usually do e.g entering through the Holy Door, praying at the shrine of the Saint) so yes, it basically was fulfilling its traditional function of incensing (purifying) the building. The actual Mass was outside.

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