Mining traditions

Szczęsc Boze (God Bless) – this is how miners greet each other underground. A casual 'good day' is good for those toiling under beautiful, sunny sky. Being a miner is not only a profession, but a passion and tradition passed on from father to son, from times immemorial. Under the ground, time changes its course, it follows the rhythm of holidays of mine’s patrons and saints, it gathers speed and slows down to celebrate annual festivals and holidays. It is worth getting to know some of them.

Miners are splendid boys, whatever it is, they take it on.

Kopalnia Soli "Wieliczka"A miner leads a colourful life and divides his time between the moments spent under the ground and those spent on the surface. That is why he takes colours which remind him of both. Green – a symbol of forests and fields, longing for nature. Black - darkness in which he must toil, but also the soil which yields salt crystals. A miner is proud of his uniform. The field uniform is grey, the gala one is black. The gala uniform is adorned with insignia of rank and decorations reminiscent of the times of old. A splendid plume symbolises a brush, in the past used to clean blastholes, for convenience kept stuck behind a band of their hats. The fuse and tinderbox were carried behind the laps on chests and sleeves. The long cape offering protection against water seeping through the ceiling has been presently transformed into a lovely, short cape. Miners were also armed in a barta, cutlass, or epee. The first of them was a hatchet and it was used in work while in the times of unrest - in fight. The epee was carried by a higher caste of miners – saltworks masters and saltworks foremen. Cutlasses were carried by students of the mining academy. Nowadays, they serve as ceremonial objects awarded for achievements and good work. While visiting the “Wieliczka” Salt Mine it is worth taking a look at the insignia on uniforms of the miners encountered along the route. Tabs and caps and the number of hammers and stripes to be seen on them speak of an individual rank and exercised function. A mining aspirant has one narrow stripe on his tab, while the director wears one serrated stripe and two narrow stripes.


A miner underground, bread on the table

Kopalnia Soli "Wieliczka"It wasn’t enough to go underground to become a miner. A special ritual was required for a miner-to-be to undergo the transformation from a fox into a real miner. Young adepts were examined in the inn during the beer shift. When their answers were to satisfaction of the older miners, they were given the honour to leap over the hide. This settled the matters. And where does the hide come from? It used to be an essential element of miner’s equipment. It was used to cover and protect the knees when the work so required. It was used to sit on and it was on the hide that the wages for the hard work underground were paid.

When an adept became a miner, his further fate depended only on how hard and how well he worked during his shift. The shift would commence with division, that is allocation of tasks in the guildhall. Having descended to the mine, miners would sit at the bottom of the shaft for a chat (na gware). With laughter and small-talk they charged their batteries for the hard day’s work ahead.


St. Barbara remembers miners

Kopalnia Soli "Wieliczka"Having descended underground, miners would not commence their hard toil without a moment of concentration and prayer. In one of the numerous underground shrines, they worshipped patrons of miners, entrusting their well-being into their care. Two most prominent of the patrons were women. St. Barbara was a deeply religious person. Escaping persecution, she sought shelter in a cave. This is why she became the patroness of people working underground. Her images adorn the mine’s chambers and guildhalls as well as houses of religious miners. St. Kinga was a Magyar princess who was to wed the ruler of Poland, Boleslaw the Chaste. As the Wieliczka legend would have it, in her due dowry she brought a treasure to Polish lands – a deposit of salt. While still in her homeland, she had cast her engagement ring down the shaft of one of the biggest mines which was later found in the first salt plug excavated in Wieliczka.

The legend is beautiful, but it is worth adding a pinch of salt to enhance its flavour– it was during her reign that salt mines in Poland began to thrive. Both the patronesses have their own holidays falling on their name days. On July 24th, all the miners in Wieliczka put on their gala uniforms and gather for a ceremonial service. It is the Feast of St. Kinga which begins in the chapel bearing her name to be later continued with a variety of artistic events. Exactly five months later, this beautiful salt chamber hosts the Christmas service for miners. It constitutes a kind of departure from the general tradition as it is held on Christmas morning rather than at midnight. Barborka, i.e. the Feast of St. Barbara commences with a ceremonial mass said in the Chapel of St. Kinga. After the service, miners take part in a gala during which the most distinguished of them receive honours and ranks.


Who works underground, gets good health on demand

Kopalnia Soli "Wieliczka"To maintain high spirits while not forgetting about the demands of the body, miners meet at the Beer Tavern (Karczma piwna). These are traditional meetings during which all those working underground feast together. The tavern follows old scenarios, miners compete in a number of frivolous tournaments, they challenge each other in telling jokes and in the art of oration. Those more brave can even make fun of their superiors and get away with it this time.

These are the traditions here!

What is interesting is the fact that each time miners drink beer from pitchers designed especially for each of the events. Although the Beer Tavern is a strictly male gathering, also ladies employed in the mine enjoy their Combry babskie. They resound with laughter and they are definitely good fun, but what really happens there is veiled in sweet mystery for men.

Światowe dziedzictwo


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