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Holy Barbara – Patron Saint of the Miners

glueckauf_300Mining can be dangerous. That is why miners still pray to their saints for protection and success in their work. For centuries, mining has had a religious background in Christian society. The day’s work often began with a collective morning prayer. In mining areas, many churches, chapels and altars were dedicated to the patron saints of mining. Sacred buildings were also built or financed by miners and mine owners. In 1840, for example, the miners of the Tyrolean Silberleithe donated 600 guilders in Austrian currency (equivalent to 10,000 euros today) for the high altar of the parish church, sponsored their priest and six masses a year.

Many mines, pits and tunnels were named after saints. In most cases they are patron saints of both the mine and the miners. Some of them are only venerated locally. Others, such as Holy Barbara, have a global significance. St George, another patron saint of miners, is even venerated in some parts of the Islamic world. Barbara is considered the most important patron saint of mining. She has been one of the most popular saints since the 14th century and one of the fourteen holy helpers since the 15th century. According to legend, Barbara was the daughter of the Bithynian Dioskurios of Nikomedia, who locked her up in a tower to protect her from the outside world and from Christianity. Praying fervently, she had the vision of John the Baptist, who baptised her. Escaping from her angry father into the mountains, an insurmountable rock wall opened up and offered her shelter. Betrayed by a shepherd, her father beheaded Barbara in 306 AD. Today you will find Barbara allegorised with her attributes of a tower, a bible, a chalice or a sword.

According to historical tradition, the miners’ greeting “Glück Auf” (literally ‘luck open’) refers to the rock that opened up for Barbara to protect and hide her. With this greeting, the miners ask the rock to open and give them its ore.

© Bergwerksverein Silberleithe Tirol, translation Antje Freund (updated by Christian Wolkersdorfer)
Last Updated on Thursday, 09 February 2023 14:17  

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