Mining might be dangerous. Therefore, even today miners beg to their saints asking for protection and success in their work. For centuries, mining has had a religious background in Christian society. Daily work often started with a collective morning prayer. In mining areas, numerous churches, chapels, and altars were dedicated to the patron saints of mining. Furthermore, sacral buildings were constructed or ﬁnanced by miners and the mine owners. In 1840, the miners of the Tyrolean Silberleithe, for example, donated 600 Gulden Austrian currency (equal to 10.000 EURO today) for the parish church’s high altar, sponsored their priest, and six masses every year.
Many mines, pits, and adits were named after saints. In most cases, they are both patron saints of the mine and the miners. Some of them are admired just locally. Others, as the Holy Barbara, have global importance. Georg, another patron saint of the miners, is even admired in some regions of the Islamic world. Barbara is seen as the most outstanding patron saint of mining. Since the 14th century she has been one of the most favoured saints, since the 15th century she belongs to the Fourteen Holy Helpers. Legend has it that Barbara was the daughter of the Bithynian Dioskurios of Nikomedia who kept her shut in a tower to preserve her from the outside world and Christianity. Praying dearly, she had the epiphany of John the Baptist who baptized her. Escaping her angry father into the mountains, an insuperable rock face opened up, oﬀering her protection. After being betrayed by a shepherd, her father decapitated Barbara in the year 306 AD. Today, you will ﬁnd Barbara allegorized with her attributes tower, bible, chalice, or sword.
Historical tradition says that the miners’ greeting “Glück Auf” (literally ‘luck open’) refers to the rock that opened for Barbara to protect and hide her. Using this greeting, miners beg the rocks to open and give them its ore.