Normally, this happens only on Holy Days. Today we’ve pulled some strings of our own and pre-arranged a special performance for us. Through a local introduction, and after making a special offering to a commercially-astute nun in the Sacristy to cover the cost of a year’s supply of incense, the quite spectacular event is about to unfold.
We are thrilled too as eight cloaked men encircle the giant thurible and light the incense. As they take the ropes the organ booms forth, and a thousand cameras flash. Suddenly it springs like a cannon shot back up into ceiling; it hangs there momentarily before starting to move, swinging back and forth slowly across the wide transept of the cathedral gathering speed and rising higher and higher, as we stand beneath wondering if it will crash through the ceiling (or on to us). All the time, the organ is playing and a sole soprano nun sings the hymn to St James.
In the Middle ages, the incense had more than the symbology of raising our prayers heavenwards, it dulled the odours of the weary pilgrims who had arrived and entered the cathedral to mark the end of their Camino, and as yet unbathed.
Evidence of our millennia-old Jewish origins is reflected in the architecture of the Cathedral. A mezzanine level encircles the interior. The practice of Men only standing in the body of the church while women stood in a triforium looking down was the same as separating the sexes for worship as is still practised in synagogues and mosques today.
We’ve seen here and in other Cathedrals in Spain indications of a male-dominated society in the Middle Ages. In more than one sculpture depicting ‘The Last Judgement’, it could appear that only men, Clerics and Noblemen go through the door of heaven while it is the women cast down with the demons, some baring-breasts and boiling in a pot. In more recent times, we may not be making Women priests in the church, but we have become more inclusive and are making progress.