Monday, July 25, 2011

For Spain's "Holy Leader," Holy Smoke

As today brings the feast of St James, time to roll out one of the Catholic imagination's many great pieces of eye candy: the Apostle's own flying "smokeboat."

Of course, that's the botafumeiro -- the celebrated flying thurible suspended from the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, a pilgrims' mecca for at least a millennium, where the remains of Spain's patron are kept.

Its purpose eventually "baptized" after its practical roots as an air-freshener for the massive crowds of the long-traveled was eventually superseded, the device is said to measure five feet tall and weigh in at 176 lbs. Filled by shovels, the botafumeiro's peak swing sees it hit a height of some 200ft off the cathedral floor at speeds in excess of 40mph.

The footage below comes from last November's papal visit to the shrine as part of B16's journey to Spanish Catholicism's most revered venues, which climaxed the next day with the pontiff's dedication of Barcelona's Basilica of Sagrada Familia, the Gaudì masterpiece still well under construction nine decades after its architect's death.

(Sung during the rite above is the traditional Compostelan hymn to St James: "Holy Leader, Patron of the Spaniards....")

While we're at it, the above serves as a good curtain-raiser for the Pope's 20th overseas trip: to Madrid for the triennial global celebration of World Youth Day -- the church's "Olympic event," now all of three weeks away, and expected to draw crowds in excess of a million.

For today, though, to all our Jameses and Jims out there, buon onomastico... however you say it in Spanish.