Incense made by the monks of Prinknash Abbey is made to a secret recipe but the main ingredient is known as Gum Olibanum [or frankincense] which is formed on the bark of various kinds of shrubs, not those of the pine family as in the case of Gum Thus [mock frankincense] but on species of the genus known as Boswellia which grow in the Middle East, chiefly in Somalia and Eritrea. This is the basic ingredient of incense. The secret of Prinknash Incense lies in knowing how to blend the essential oils and and other gums so that a sweet odour is given off instead of an unpleasant smell of burning.
Making Prinknash Incense
No records survive from the early days of incense making at Prinknash but it is true to say that it had had its origins at Caldey Island too. In 1934 charcoal tablets were first experimented with in order to supply the glowing ember that incense needs. Stamping machines were designed and made and charcoal, as well as incense, was marketed world-wide.
In the incense room large pieces of gum were crushed by the cogs of a crusher designed for coal sampling and the coffee mill was eventually replaced by an electric grinder that produced grains of various sizes. The Incense Department was located in the upper floors of the middle of the stable block and storage was in the lofts!
During the early part of 1962 new premises and machinery were acquired. Four large Army huts were erected to house not only the incense but the Organ workshop too. In 1968 hostilities in Somaliland and Eritrea made it impossible to import olibanum from its source but a friend of the community was able to help out using his former contacts in the trade, although the world price had escalated because of the shortage.
Today Prinknash Incense comes in six varieties and has markets all over the world, having built up high standards of production and a reliable reputation.