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Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

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The Botafumeiro

If you are lucky enough to visit the great cathedral of Santiago de Compostela on a high church or feast day then you should see the world’s largest incense burner in action. The cathedral is the proud owner of the “botafumeiro” a 1.6 metre high censer which is attached to the roof of the cathedral crossing and then swung by a team of some four attendants just above the heads of the faithful.

The best place to stand is either near the front of the nave or in the transept itself as the botafumeiro swings across the body of the church reaching speeds up to 60 km/h!

My personal favourite moment was the technique used by the attendant who has the unenviable job of stopping the monster – he has to catch and swing it round his body in one deft movement to rob it of its momentum.

When not in use it is on display in the cathedral library. [more ]

Botafumeiro, incense and tradition

One of the highlights and most historical tradition at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral is to visit it when the Botafumeiro is displayed in action. The tradition of letting this huge metal incense burnt swing in the Cathedral comes from medieval days when Pilgrims will arrive to Compostela and will be welcomed to sleep in the top corridors of the Cathedral. The mixed and rather unpleasant smells of hundreds of pilgrims accommodated inside the Cathedral started this peculiar tradition of this enormous beauty that will throw a large amount of smoke with the aroma of incense. A practical measure that now is one of the most beautiful and traditional displays in the Cathedral. Although the original one is kept just for show, there are new replicas built that are the ones that they use on Sunday mornings before 9pm. Religious or not, you can not help but share a tear when you see it flying. A thought of reverence for all those who walked so many miles to Santiago. [more ]

Hit your head against the pillar and you´ll have arrived to Santiago

The Cathedral of Santiago has a rather emotional than religious connection for me as I´ve visited since my childhood. Apart from the beauty of the stunning facade and the wonderful pillars in the interior I always loved the custom of putting the hand on the front pillar and hit my head softly against it. It is a tradition for every pilgrim that arrived to do so as to increase the intellect, something that students followed to "clear" their heads as well as putting the hand in one of the holes below as to show your purity, something similar to the Boca de la Veritá in Rome. The pillar is right at the entrance and you will probably see a few people queuing already. Anyone can do it, as you do not really need to do the whole pilgrimage to do the greeting at the cathedral. Of course to watch the Botafumeiro flying fast in the air is also an amazing thing but you need to be there for a special occasions as it is not shown daily. [more ]

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