What is the pilgrim’s mass?

Religious and spiritual motives are one of the main reasons that encourage pilgrims to start their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

Since the beginning of the pilgrimages, the Church has taken this aspect into account, creating religious services especially dedicated to this group of faithful. The best known is the so-called “pilgrim’s mass” which is celebrated every day at the main altar of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela at 12.00 noon (see here the schedule).

In the pilgrim’s mass the priests and their companions join the pilgrims to celebrate the joy of their arrival before the remains of the Apostle. The groups are greeted and the list of pilgrims who arrived in Santiago the day before and requested “la Compostela” at the Pilgrim’s Office is read out. In addition to the name, the nationality and the place from which each of them started their pilgrimage is mentioned.

Traditionally, during the pilgrim’s mass, the faithful pray to thank God for the experience and for having reached their goal.

In the Holy Year (when July 25 falls on a Sunday), the pilgrim’s mass has a special surprise in store for us. It is the popular botafumeiro, a gigantic silver-plated brass incense burner whose use dates back to the Middle Ages (it appears in the Codex Calixtinus and, it is thought, its purpose was to purify the atmosphere when the crowds gathered inside the temple).

The botafumeiro weighs about fifty kilos, but when loaded with coal and incense can exceed one hundred kilos, which requires the attention of eight specialists or tiraboleiros to swing it inside the Cathedral. Suspended at a height of about 20 meters by a pulley system, it reaches a speed of 68 km/h during its swinging.

In non-Jacobean years, the botafumeiro can only be seen on solemn occasions such as the Epiphany of the Lord (January 6), Easter Sunday, the Ascension of the Lord, the appearance of the Apostle at the Battle of Clavijo (May 23), the day of Pentecost, the day of St. James or the Martyrdom of St. James (July 25), the Assumption of Mary (August 15), All Saints’ Day (November 1), the day of Christ the King, the Immaculate Conception (December 8), Christmas Day (December 25) and the day of the Transfer of the Remains of the Apostle (December 30).

The rest of the days an incense burner is used, also made of white metal, known as La Alcachofa (The Artichoke).

However, in 2013 the City Council of Santiago reached an agreement with the Hotel Association and the Archbishopric of the Cathedral so that on Fridays of the summer months the botafumeiro is also used during the pilgrim’s masses.

If it does not coincide with any of these dates, the implementation of the inincensory can be achieved with donations from interested groups requesting it in advance at the Pilgrim’s Office. Fees are around 300 euros.

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