What is the Botafumeiro and when can I see it?

What is the Botafumeiro?

The Botafumeiro is an impressive ‘censer’ or thurible that measures 1.50 metres and weighs 53kg and one of the most striking rituals at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

It takes eight men, known as ‘tiraboleiros’, to set the Botafumeiro in motion and make it swing dramatically over the nave of the Cathedral 20 metres high, while releasing its fragrant incense smoke.

When in full swing, the Botafumeiro can reach speeds of up to 68kms per hour and is a sight to behold. For many pilgrims this is one of the most touching moments of their pilgrimage journey to Santiago de Compostela and can be an emotional experience.

While there have been various thuribles in the history of Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, the first reference to the Botafumeiro appears in the Codex Calixtinus, written in the 12th century, where it is referred to as ‘Turibulum Magnum’.

Today, the Cathedral has two thuribles: the one generally used is made of brass and dates to 1851, and there is also a replica one made of silver.

The Botafumeiro is used during the entrance procession or at the end of the Eucharist at the Cathedral’s most important solemnities and liturgies.


Origins and purpose

According to the Cathedral, the purpose of the Botafumeiro is:

“To symbolise the true attitude of the believer. In the same way that the smoke from the incense rises to the top of the temple’s naves, so must the prayers of the pilgrims rise to reach the heart of God.

And in the same manner that the aroma of the incense perfumes the entire basilica, so must Christians, with their virtues and the testimony of their lives, impregnate with the good scent of Christ, the society that they live in.”

Originally the censer might have had a much more practical approach: the incense fragrance would have helped to cover up some of the odours of crowded medieval pilgrims at the temple, having been walking for weeks, therefore making the space less ‘stuffy’ and more bearable.

When can I see the Botafumeiro?

The Botafumeiro thurible is used during mass at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela on the following special dates in the religious calendar:

  • 6th January: Epiphany
  • Resurrection Sunday
  • 23rd May: The Apparition of the Apostle-Clavijo
  • Pentecost
  • 25th July: The Martyrdom of Saint James
  • 15th August: Assumption of Mary
  • 1st November: All Saints
  • November: Feast of Christ the King
  • 8th December: The Immaculate Conception
  • 25th December: Christmas Day
  • 30th December: Transfer of the remains of the Apostle

The thurible is used sometimes during Pilgrim Mass but there is no guarantee or specific schedule. In general, it is used at the 7.30 Pilgrim Mass each Friday, except on Good Friday.

However the use of the Botafumeiro can be requested and booked by pilgrimage groups. More details about how to make a request from the Cathedral can be found on the: SANTIAGO CATHEDRAL WEBSITE.

During some of the important recent refurbishment work undertaken in the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, the Botafumeiro couldn’t be used but this ritual has returned in 2021.

We hope you enjoyed this article about this important ritual for Camino pilgrims at the Cathedral. For more information about our Camino de Santiago pilgrimages and tours, contact our travel experts.

*This article was originally published on the JWT Camino Travel Blog.

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