The miners' patron saint
St Barbara in the Ruhr region in the 1950s
"Among the saints venerated by miners as their patrons at various places and times, it is Saint Barbara who now plays the predominant role. Indeed, she is popularly seen as the only patron saint of miners." With these words, Gerhard Heilfurth, who has investigated the popular culture of mining, summarizes the cult of St Barbara in the Ruhr region in the second half of the 1950s. He reports that "the cult and celebration of St Barbara were of relatively recent origin in the Ruhr and had not developed from a long-standing local tradition."
In the 1950s, the cult of St Barbara became increasingly popular in the coalfields of the Ruhr. More and more collieries, apprentices' hostels and training institutes held celebrations in her honour. New songs and plays stressed the close connection between Barbara and mining. Her image appeared on churches, miners' meeting places, medallions, flags and decorative documents. New streets, hostels and churches were dedicated to her.
The article demonstrates how this upsurge in reverence for St Barbara was accompanied by the modernization and secularization of her legend, in the course of which a Catholic saint was reinvented as the patron saint of all miners and indeed virtually the only patron saint of mining.