Incense Shuttle

Pioneering settlers used this fine ceramic vessel for religious devotions.

Written by Annick Desmarais

Posted January 4, 2023

An incense shuttle is a sacred object used to transport incense to the censer during religious celebrations, especially the celebration of mass. This incense shuttle was discovered in 2014 on the site of the Fort de Ville-Marie, the first French settlement on the island of Montreal. The fort was built on a point, today named Pointe-à-Callière, where the St. Pierre River flows into the St. Lawrence River.

In 1642 Jeanne Mance and Paul de Chomedey, sieur de Maisonneuve, accompanied by some fifty pioneers, founded the settlement of Ville-Marie in the name of the Société de Notre-Dame de Montréal. They celebrated mass and dedicated their settlement to the Virgin Mary. The fort sheltered the group as they struggled to become established in the face of opposition by the local Iroquois (Haudenosaunee). A protective fortification surrounded the settlement, which consisted of houses, a chapel, a hospital, and a main wooden building. This artifact was probably used in the chapel during that time.

The shuttle was made in La Chapelle-des-Pots, a village in southwestern France where potters have been working for more than eight centuries. The object has the shape of a half-decked ship, and is made from common glazed terracotta from Saintonge, France. This material, decorated with coloured oxides, is rare in the Fort de Ville-Marie collection, and the superior-quality ceramic required elaborate manufacturing processes. The incense shuttle was broken into many pieces, as indicated by the small size of the shards found.

This object resides at Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal Archaeology and History Complex.

This article originally appeared in Cinquante Merveilles de nos musées: les plus beaux trésors de la Francophonie Canadienne. The special interest publication was part of Projet Portage, a five-year initiative to connect history lovers in French and English Canada, generously supported by the Molson Foundation.

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