Wednesday, July 25, 2012

For Santiago's Day, Holy Smoke

As today's liturgy brings the feast of St James, there's no better time to roll out one of the Catholic imagination's many great pieces of eye candy: the famous flying "smokeboat" at the shrine of the first martyred Apostle.

Of course, that's the botafumeiro -- the unique mega-thurible suspended from the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, a pilgrims' mecca for well over 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"baptized" after its practical roots as an air-freshener for the massive crowds of the long-traveled was eventually superseded, the device is said to measure five feet tall and weigh in at 176 lbs.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 and powered by a crew of robed devotos, the botafumeiro's peak swing sees it hit a height of some 200ft off the cathedral floor at speeds in excess of 40mph. Prone to mid-swing accidents in its earlier incarnations, a predecessor to today's model -- in use since 1851 -- flew out a window of the cathedral, which was dedicated in 1128.

Here's how it looked in November 2010 during the Pope's pilgrimage to Santiago....

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

All that said, to all our Jameses, Jimmys and Jims out there, buon onomastico... however you say it in Spanish.