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FIFTH SERIES.-VOL. VIII, NO. XXXI.
NOTICE OF A MEDIEVAL THURIBLE
BY J. ROMILLY ALLEN, ESQ., F.S.A.SCOT.
THE thurible here illustrated was exhibited at the Temporary Museum formed during the Meeting of the Cambrian Archæological Association at Carmarthen in 1875. This interesting object was dug up at Penmaen Church, and is now preserved in the Swansea Museum. I am indebted to the Rev. J. D. Davies for the loan of the accompanying woodcut, which is borrowed from his History of West Gower.
The thurible consists of two parts. The upper one has been broken; but enough remains to restore the whole, as shown on the second illustration. The total height of the thurible is 6 in., and the greatest diameter 3 in. The height of the lower part is 2 in. Both the top and bottom parts have three loops projecting from the outside, at equal distances apart. Through these were passed the chains by which the censer was swung. Each loop is half an inch in diameter, and is fastened to the side of the vessel with two rivets. The lower part, or pan, in which the incense was burnt is a round bowl with a flat foot to rest upon when not in use. It is ornamented on the outside, round the top rim, with an undulating line
1 See Arch. Camb., 4th Ser., vol. vi. 5TH SER., VOL. VIII.
between two parallel lines. On the inside, near the bottom, is a rose-headed rivet, the object of which is not apparent. The upper part, or cover, is also circular, and tapers, with a curved outline, towards the top, where it terminates in a conical point. Round the bottom are fifteen rectangular openings, to allow the perfume of the burnt incense to escape, and above each is a small circular opening for the same purpose. Over these are four projecting gables, like dormer-windows in the roof of a house, each pierced with two rectangular holes. Round the top are four more rectangular holes. The spaces between the apertures are ornamented with a variety of different patterns formed of incised lines, as shown.
The Penmaen thurible is probably of the thirteenth century.
Before the Reformation every church must have possessed a thurible as a necessary part of the furniture required for its ritual, but the number now existing in Great Britain is surprisingly small. The following is a list of those specimens that have been described in the journals of different archæological societies and elsewhere:
12th cent.-Alton Castle, Staffordshire. [Journ. Brit. Archæol. Assoc., vol. xix, p. 87.]
Ashbury, Berkshire. [Bloxam's Gothic Architecture, eleventh ed., vol. ii, p. 84.]
[Proc. Soc. Ant.
Church Stretton, Shropshire.
vol. i, p. 47.]
[Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot.,
vol. xxi, p. 180.]
[Journ. Brit. Archæol. Assoc., vol.
Pershore. [Journ. Brit. Arch. Inst., vol. xxxiv,
Ripple, Worcestershire. [Bristol and Gloucester-
It is not easy to determine when the use of thuribles commenced in the Christian Church. No representation of a thurible occurs either on the catacomb paintings of the first four centuries, or on the sculptured sarcophagi of the same period; but on one of the celebrated mosaics in the Church of St. Vitale, at Ravenna, an ecclesiastic is portrayed with a censer in his hand. Pictures of censers are to be found in the "Sacramentaire de Drogon", a Carlovingian MS. of the ninth century, and in many others.'
The first form of censer appears to have been an open dish swung by chains; but those now in existence, none of which date back further than the twelfth century, are made in two parts, i.e., a pan for holding the incense whilst burning, and a pierced cover that allows the perfume to escape, but prevents the ashes falling out during the operation of swinging. The commonest type of twelfth century thurible was as nearly as possible spherical, the division between the bowl and the cover being in the middle. The bowl rested on a foot, and the cover was surmounted by a small turret, the idea of which seems to have been taken from that on the top of the dome of a Byzantine building. The architectural idea was still further developed by adding projecting dormer-windows, as on the examples from Penmaen, Pershore, and Ripple. These spherical thuribles were swung by three chains, and the decoration arranged in three circles on the surface of the sphere between each of the points of suspension. In the design of the censer of Trèves, the imitation of a building has been pushed to its furthest extreme. It is quadrangular with apsidal ends, pierced windows, and surmounted by four turrets.
In the later censers the architectural idea disap
1 Rohault de Henry, La Messe, vol. i, pl. 4; and Birch's Early Drawings and Illuminations in the British Museum, p. 113.
2 Didron's Manuel des Euvres de Bronze et d'Orfèverie du Moyen Age, p. 110; Annales Archéologiques, vol. ix, p. 357; and Cahier and Martin's Nouveaux Melanges d'Archéologie, vol. iii, p. 357.