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Precious Things

I received the call on Monday. "It's in the post. Should be with you in three-to-five working days". The words put me in a geeky flutter: finally, the Thurible was on its way here!

Now, for those of you wondering, a thurible is basically a very nice incense burner indeed. It comes attached to a chain, meaning the incense can be swung at arm's length.

Still used in many churches, temples and shrines across the world, incense can play a very important role in a worshipper's experience of a sacred place. Smell, we are often reminded, is a short-circuit to our memories. The mixture of Frankinsence, Myrrh, and citrus oils usually favoured by the Catholic Church - though perhaps not as evocative as mothballs or freshly-baked bread - is a heavy mix which can transport you to some quite fantastical places. Some of these smells have been used in ceremonies and perfumes since the age of the ancient Egyptians and beyond. It is no surprise, then, that one's imagination can wander quite far off its leash when this stuff is burning.

Now, before i get too Herbal Essences, I should probably 'fess up - i'm an incense fiend. Not just any incense either. I'll snobbishly breeze past the day-glo, wood based tendrils and cones, and go straight for the resin. Usually made from sap collected from trees, each kind has its own history and associations. Frankinsence comes in rounded, amber-coloured blobs. Myrrh looks a bit more like the discarded pupae of a creepy-crawly. Damar looks like pear drops, and smells like a delicate, citrussy nectar...

Anyway, back to the thurible. Ours is replica, to be used in St Teilo's Church. Past experiments (using a thurible kindly loaned from St David's College) have yielded mixed results. Some enjoyed the experience, saying it gave an air of religious calm to the building. Others took two huffs and turned on their heels, coughing. Some just felt uncomfortable, perhaps due to their own religious instruction or beliefs about worship. We propose to use the thurible during re-enactments at first (more on those later...), along with period music and liturgy, to see whether we can really re-create the atmosphere of a Mass in 1500.

Only problem is that the Curator who commissioned the replica is on holiday. The parcel sits tantalisingly intact in the strong room. I'm trying my best not to take a peek - though, it would take considerable effort, seeing as I don't have the keys. We will have to wait, then, until Monday, when we'll have a very different unboxing video to show you!

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