“Ah bin nan nan, Sainte-Barbe, al is not dead! *” In the former mining basin of Nord and Pas-de-Calais, the feasts of Saint Barbara (or Barbara), which falls on December 4th, it is sacred. This year again, the agglomeration of Lens-Liévin continues this secular tradition with the Arts et Feu festival, which begins on Friday and ends. On the program, pyrotechnics, mapping, fire shows, concerts, popular balls, exhibitions and workshops.
But the Holy Beard, when one is not one of the initiates, what is it? It is the patron saint of firefighters, fireworks, but also underground miners. In fact, all trades that need to be protected from fire and explosions.
“We sang, we danced, we drank”
Although withdrawn from the Christian calendar more than fifty years ago, its celebration has remained intact in the mining sectors of the region, as recounted by artist Martial Ansart, a former miner in Hersin-Coupigny, near Lens, and fervent defender of this memory: “It was the feast of the miners. The cafes were full. We sang, we danced, we drank. In fact, we were dizzy. I remember, at 6 a.m., I picked up the saxophone and went to play in the local bistro. “.
The children did not go to school and, before the 1951 law article which has hours instituted Sainte Barbe like nonworking and paid day, the minors carried out additional, fifteen days before the fateful date, to be able to celebrate. “For me, there was never any question of working on December 4,” admits Martial Ansart.
Today the mood has changed. The excitement has almost disappeared, but within the families of former miners, we still organize a small family reception. “Every year at Sainte Barbe, I have a little message:“ Grandpa, happy holidays ”, and I care about it. Everyone in the family knows it ”, specifies the former miner.
Tradition since the 17th century
Going back further in history, we find the roots of this tradition as far back as the 17th century with the first powder explosions in Europe, in the Vosges copper mines. “The miners, who until then venerated Saint Leonard, the patron saint of walled people, turned to Saint Barbara, mistress of fire and lightning,” continues Martial Ansart.
Fire, noise and light, all these elements that punctuated the life of the mine, have crossed the centuries, to be reborn in festivities organized by certain municipalities, attached to their history.
* No, no, Sainte Barbe, she is not dead!