Some Forms of the Thurible or Censer

If you were to ask any Ceremoniere or head server what the most popular serving role is, they would no doubt tell you: "thurifer." The role of thurifer (i.e the server who carries the thurible or censer) no doubt has this appeal for reason of its "theatricality" and also because it requires a certain amount of technical knowledge and skill. However, beyond its theatrical and liturgical appeal, another aspect of this appeal -- more generally -- is surely its elegant form.

Censers not only have a fluid and well-balanced form, they are made from gold or silver metals that are frequently elaborately ornamented.  In the medieval period, that ornamentation often took on an architectural form with gothic tracery and other architectural features such as a roof, walls and so on.

Pre-1477. (Source)
Gozbert Censer, ca. 1100
Spanish. Date unknown. 
German, late 15th century
The Ramsey Abbey Censer, ca. 1325
Copyright (C) Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Date unknown.
Italian, 16th century
As we move into the 17th century onward, just as architecture had shifted away from the gothic and was moving forward under the influence of the Renaissance (and later baroque and rococo), so too do we find comparable shifts in the design of thuribles; designs which take on a more curvilinear form and which draw on organic and floral motifs over architectural one's.

Venice, 17th century
Venice, 17th century
Naples, 18th century
Venice, 18th century
Bergamo, 18th century
Of course, even earlier forms of the thurible include those without the cap (or lid) -- something used in the Ambrosian rite to this very day. An example of this form can be seen in this detail from a mosaic in San Vitale in Ravenna:

Here too is a first millennium example from Greece:

Greek, 6th-8th century
Most primitively censers had no chains -- essentially taking the form of a bowl or vase. Perhaps these were the sort that the Liber Pontificalis notes the Emperor Constantine gifting to the Lateran Basilica: "two censers of purest gold" (weighing thirty pounds) and "a censer of purest gold adorned on every side with jewels" (weighing fifteen).

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