Israel Antiquities Authority, Israel
The swinging of thuribles in which incense is burned to produce a sweet smelling smoke is a familiar scene in Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. The use of incense in religious worship predates Christianity by thousands of years, and the Old Testament contains numerous references to it. As early as the 4th century AD, literary sources describe the practice of burning incense during church services in the Holy Land. Several bronze thuribles suspended from three chains have been discovered in Early Byzantine churches in the Eastern Mediterranean. Mosaics of contemporaneous churches depict a thurifer holding in his right hand a thurible similar to those found in excavations of churches. There are a few variants in shape but they all consist of a small container, usually made of bronze, three chains, and no lid. Wall paintings in churches at Novgorod show that swinging thuribles without a lid, very similar to those from Early Byzantine churches, continued to be used for many centuries in Russian Orthodox churches.