Sacristy Series: The Merits of the Italian Form of the Incense Boat

The use of incense within Catholic liturgical life is, suffice it to say, very ancient. Like so many things in the first few centuries of the Church's life, however, specific dates are hard to come by. The first clear evidence that we have of its use in Christian worship is by way of the fifth century writer Pseudo-Dionysius --  and so we know that it was at very least used by this time, if not earlier. 

The liturgical vessels that pertain to the use of incense within liturgical worship are the "thurible," also referred to as a "censer," and the incense boat -- the object which holds the unburnt granules of incense.

The name "boat" comes with reference to the particular shape this vessel generally took -- which is indeed that of a ship or boat (see above). In saying this, it must be noted that there were different manifestations of this vessel in terms of shape, with some being more cup-like and others taking on more the shape of an actual ship-like vessel to some greater or lesser degree. 

The examples shown immediately above are fairly common to the twentieth century, especially within the English speaking world, however if you were to look to Europe, especially places such as Italy, you would find another form that is, to my mind,  more noble and more practical.

This particular form of the incense boat comes with a long stem by which it can be more stably grasped by the thurifer. In addition to this practical benefit there is another: it will also hold more incense than the aforementioned variants. 

In addition to these practical benefits, this particular form of boat also strikes me as the more beautiful in considering its form and design, being more symmetrical and better in its overall proportions. Good art is often a mixture of both form and function and in both of these regards, this has long struck me as a preferred form of incense boat. 

So where might sacristans or parish priests find it today? Modern variants are available from suppliers such as Adrian Hamers or from Italian suppliers such as Artesacra Candotti. With regard to searching out other Italian suppliers, a hint would be to search on "navicella," which is the Italian word for this vessel. Evidently antique offerings can also be found if this is of interest.

Having handled and used all of the forms that have been shown in this article, I can attest to the fact that the model in question is, in my own estimation, the more noble and the more practical and I would encourage you to invest in one for your parish or chapel.

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