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All about the Botafumeiro: What is it, when does it start?

We tell you what is exactly the botafumeiro of the Cathedral of Santiago, what it is for and what days of the year you will see it on the move

Botafumeiro (Wikimedia Commons)

Botafumeiro (Wikimedia Commons)

What is the botafumeiro?

The botafumeiro (which means "censer" in Galician) is a large liturgical vessel that hangs from the dome of the Cathedral of Santiago and that spreads incense throughout the temple moving from one side to another thanks to a system of pulleys. The botafumeiro is operated by eight 'tiraboleiros', in charge of pushing it first and pulling the rope afterwards, in order to make the container full of incense and coal pick up speed. The tiraboleiros can move the botafumeiro so that it reaches up to 68 km / h, going up to a height of 21 meters, drawing an arch of 65 meters.

What is the use of the botafumeiro?

The function of the botafumeiro is to spread incense through the temple and in this way to perfume it to eliminate unpleasant odors. This tradition began in the eleventh century, with the rise of the Camino de Santiago, which attracted a large number of pilgrims to the cathedral just after finishing their trip, without having been able to wash or rest.

In ancient times the churches and cathedrals of the Camino sheltered the pilgrims at night, so the bad smells were concentrated in the temples, so it was necessary to use incense to scare away the stench. The size of the botafumeiro of the Cathedral of Santiago obeys to the dimensions of the temple and the fact of being the end of the Camino, which concentrated many pilgrims who concluded their pilgrimage to Santiago.

How many times did the Botafumeiro of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela shoot out?

This large liturgical object weighs more than 60 kg and measures 1.60 m in height; the botafumeiro is silver plated and is tied to the transept of the cathedral by a large rope 62 meters long and 5 cm in diameter (the current rope is made of a synthetic material). When swinging from part to part of the cathedral at high speed, the botafumeiro can reach a great force, which sometimes meant detachments of the rope, leaving the object shot. There is evidence of three detachments of this object until today; in 1499, 1622 and 1937.
Botafumeiro - Wikipedia Commons

Botafumeiro - Wikipedia Commons

Origin of the Botafumeiro

If you want to know the origin of this symbol of the Camino de Santiago, you must first ask yourself what the botafumeiro is for. The function of the botafumeiro is to spread incense around the temple and thus perfume it to eliminate unpleasant odors. This tradition begins in the eleventh century, with the rise of the Camino de Santiago, which attracted to the cathedral a large number of pilgrims just after finishing their journey, without being able to wash or rest.
In ancient times the churches and cathedrals of the Camino sheltered pilgrims at night, so bad smells were concentrated in the temples, so it was necessary to use incense to drive away the stench. The size of the botafumeiro of the Cathedral of Santiago is due to the dimensions of the temple and the fact of being the end of the Camino, which concentrates many pilgrims who concluded their pilgrimage to Santiago. 

When can you see the botafumeiro in motion?

The botafumeiro of the Cathedral of Santiago "flies" in a total of 12 occasions a year, of which nine are fixed days and three are festivities that change of day according to the year. However you should know that since the 28/1/2019 and the following 12 months the interior of the cathedral is under construction for the Xacobeo Year 2021, so no liturgies are performed (and therefore the botafumeiro is not used ).

Below you will find all the dates in which you can see the botafumeiro in movement updated to the liturgical calendar of 2019. According to the Pilgrim's Welcome Office, the botafumeiro can also function on the occasion of pilgrimages that have requested it.

  • January 6 (The Epiphany of the Lord)
  • April 21 (Resurrection Sunday)
  • May 23 (Appearance of the Apostle Santiago in the Battle of Clavijo)
  • The Ascension of the Lord
  • Pentecost
  • July 25 (The Martyrdom of Santiago)
  • August 15 (The Assumption of Mary)
  • November 1 (All Saints' Day)
  • Feast of Christ the King
  • December 8 (The Immaculate Conception)
  • December 25 (Christmas Day)
  • December 30 (Ceremony of Translation of the remains of the Apostle)

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