The Incense Boat

Recently we looked at some different historical designs for the thurible, and today I wished to focus on the boat. For those not familiar, the "boat" is the vessel that carries the loose, unburnt incense. Why is it called the "boat"? Quite simply for reason of its shape -- which is often similar to the shape of the sea-faring vessel known by the same name.

Now incense boats historically do come in more than one shape it should be noted. There seems to be three primary shape families that they can be broken down into so far as I can see: the boat, the cup and the lamp:

The boat shape
The cup shape
The lamp shape
To my mind, the boat shape is not only the more elegant of the three, it is also the more practical --being as it would be more easily and securely carried by the thurifer because of its balanced shape and long stem by which to grasp it.

20th century, Italian
19th century, Italian
18th century, Italian
17th century, Italian
Some of the examples coming from the early 17th century and prior have an almost crescent moon like shape to them, though they still fall into this boat-shaped family to my mind:

17th century, Italian
16th century, Italian
16th century, Italian
(As an aside, some examples even go so far as to give the actual physical characteristics of a boat proper:)

But to return on point, while there is absolutely nothing wrong with the other two shapes, I certainly have no qualms about encouraging the use of the boat shape for the reasons already mentioned -- aesthetic beauty and liturgical practicality.

Join in the conversation on our Facebook page.