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Traditional Pilgrim Rituals Await Pope at Santiago de Compostela
Carol Glatz
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Sunday, October 31, 2010
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VATICAN CITY (CNS)—When Pope Benedict XVI heads to Spain Nov. 6-7, he will follow some of the traditional rituals that pilgrims engage in when visiting the popular pilgrimage site of Santiago de Compostela.

It will be his first time to the ancient pilgrimage city and to Barcelona where he will consecrate the partially completed Church of the Sagrada Familia, or Holy Family.

"He's very happy to go (to Compostela) because it's something he has wanted very much," said the Vatican's chief spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, during a press briefing Oct. 29.

Before becoming pope, "he and his brother also once talked about them going together, but it never happened," said Father Lombardi.

Though he will not have walked the miles of roadsides and pathways other Compostela pilgrims travel when going on foot or by horse, the pope will still carry out some of the traditional pilgrimage rituals at the cathedral.

The pope will walk through the cathedral's Holy Door, which was opened at the start of the year. The feast of St. James, July 25, fell on a Sunday this year, making 2010 a holy year.

Tradition holds that the remains of the apostle St. James the Greater—Santiago in Spanish—are buried in the city's cathedral. The pope will head to the crypt and pray at the apostle's tomb and he will embrace a statue of St. James, another pilgrim tradition.

Finally, the pope will incense the cathedral in an unusual method particular to the Santiago church.

A giant incense burner, about the size of an adult human being, hangs from a rope wrapped around a double pulley in front of the main altar. At special pilgrim Masses and events, the incense burner is swung across the church in a trajectory similar to that of a trapeze performer in a circus.

The burner is called a "botafumeiro" in Galician, the Spanish dialect spoken in Santiago de Compostela, and it means "smoke thrower."

In medieval times, its function was not just liturgical. It was also filled with perfumes to deodorize the smells from the hordes of sweating and unwashed pilgrims who went straight to the cathedral after days on the road.

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