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The sculpture was carved in green salt and represents St. Kinga of Poland. The figure stands on a cubic pedestal and is 1.85 m tall (2.4 m including the pedestal). St. Kinga is dressed in a habit consisting of the long tunic girded with a rope with knots to which a rosary is attached, a short coat, covering for the head (for forehead, cheeks and neck) and a veil covering the arms.

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The sculpture was carved in green salt and represents St. Kinga of Poland. The figure stands on a cubic pedestal and is 1.85 m tall (2.4 m including the pedestal). St. Kinga is dressed in a habit consisting of the long tunic girded with a rope with knots to which a rosary is attached, a short coat, covering for the head (for forehead, cheeks and neck) and a veil covering the arms.
The sculpture was probably made in the early 20th century and its author is supposedly Józef Markowski — a miner and sculptor known for making salt sculptures stored in the chapel of St. Kinga.
Salt sculptures of miners’ patronesses — St. Kinga and St. Barbara — were initially parts of the Passion Altar close to the Daniłowicz shaft at level III of the Wieliczka salt mine. The altar was described in the article by mining expert Edward Windakiewicz, entitled Kaplice w kopalni wielickiej (Chapels of the Wieliczka Salt Mine), published in 1938 in the newspaper, Życie techniczne (Technical affairs): “Close to the Daniłowicz shaft at level III, in the stone cavity, there is a beautifully preserved altar with Jesus Christ on the cross surrounded by the figures of St. Barbara, St. Kinga and St. Anthony.” Today, in this place there is a completely different and new altar of St. Kinga. It is not known when the figures of St. Kinga and St. Barbara were removed from here. In 1956 the Wieliczka Salt Mine handed them over to the newly opened Kraków Salt Works Museum in Wieliczka. The figures of the saints were put in the Russegger II chamber, in front of the entrance to the Widening (Szerzyzna).
St. Kinga was represented in two ways: as a young person wearing rich robes of a duchess or as an older nun wearing the habit of the Order of St. Clare. Jan Matejko was the only one who purposely linked both these conventions and painted St. Kinga as a 60-year-old lady dressed as a duchess equipped with items related to her life spent in the monastery of the Order of Poor Ladies (a prayer book, a crosier, the view of the convent in Stary Sącz).
Contemporary habits of nuns from the Order of St. Clare refer to clothes from the beginning of the order and consist of a simple, long, black tunic with wide sleeves, sewn in the shape of a cross, a black scapular that used to be treated as a cover for the tunic (today a constant element of attire); a long black coat reaching the nun’s feet, used during the liturgy and important rites of the order; a veil covering the arms (white one for novices, black one for nuns after professing their vows); a white covering for the head (on the forehead, cheeks and neck) representing modesty and sacrifice for the wedded one in the medieval era; a white rope girdling the tunic at the waist as an expression of the penitential lifestyle, with three knots symbolising three vows made during the profession: obedience, virginity, and poverty, and the so-called rosary of seven decades, suspended on a rope and used during the service of the seven joys of the Virgin.
In the salt mines of Wieliczka and Bochnia, St. Kinga was especially worshipped for over 700 years. The main element of this cult is the belief that she was responsible for discovering salt in the region of Kraków. According to the legend, St. Kinga’s dowry, i.e. layers of salt, was miraculously transported from the Hungarian land of Máramaros (currently Maramureş in Romania) to Poland. People believed in the constant care that St. Kinga spread over the salt mines and the miners working in them. In case of dangerous fires (in the mid-17th century), miners sought help and went on a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Kinga in the monastery of the order of St. Clare in Stary Sącz. Various shrines associated with her were built in the mine: the chapel of St. Cunegunda, (i.e. St. Kinga) in the Boczaniec chamber (1645) with the painting depicting the saint, the salt bas-relief of kneeling Kinga wearing a habit in the St. Cross chapel in the Lizak chamber (1730) and finally, the most spectacular chapel of St. Kinga at the higher level II (1896). The cult of St. Kinga can also be seen by the various paintings stored in the underground museum exhibition, painted by Jan Matejko and Ferdynand Olesiński.

Elaborated by Kraków Salt Works Museum in Wieliczka, © all rights reserved

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Salt sculptures in the Wieliczka salt mine

Sculptures made in salt are typical of mines in Wieliczka and Bochnia. In our portal they are represented by images of St. Kinga and St. Barbara. Salt is a difficult material. It is softer and more flexible than stone; however, on the other hand, salt blocks may have invisible cracks...

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Sculptures made in salt are typical of mines in Wieliczka and Bochnia. In our portal they are represented by images of St. Kinga and St. Barbara. Salt is a difficult material. It is softer and more flexible than stone; however, on the other hand, salt blocks may have invisible cracks. One careless move of a chisel and a mallet may destroy the whole sculpture. Salt is very sensitive to the influence of humidity and fresh humid air. It is almost impossible to refill or renovate leached sculptures.   Picturesque green and grey sculptures, made mostly by miners and properly illuminated, are one of the advantages of the Wieliczka salt mine. The oldest salt sculptures come from the late 17th century. Very precious sculptures are in the chapel of St. Anthony (1698), the chapel of St. Cross in the Lizak chamber (finished in 1730, the place is not open to the public) and the figures of monks in the chapel of St. Cross in the higher level II (brought from the chapel of St. Kinga in the Boczaniec chamber, from the late 17th century). Many sculptures had not been preserved until now (e.g., sculptures of Vulcan and Neptune in the Łętów ball hall). The best known and most spectacular set of salt sculptures and bas-reliefs made by Józef Markowski, his brother Tomasz, Antoni Wyrodek and Stanisław Anioł starting from 1895 are stored in the chapel of St. Kinga at the higher level II. The tradition of carving salt sculptures has been successfully cultivated to this day in the Wieliczka salt mine.

Elaborated by Kraków Salt Works Museum in Wieliczka (Muzeum Żup Krakowskich Wieliczka), the editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums, © all rights reserved

See also:
Salt sculpture “St. Barbara”

Salt sculpture “St. Kinga of Poland”

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The misery from salt-mining beats gold earned from digging in dung

In the Middle Ages and modern times, mines were very profitable. Cities were springing up around them all over Europe. This was no different in the Kingdom of Poland, where "Wieliczka grew into a city from a vile hovel" (a quote from Zygmunt Gloger, Encyklopedia staropolska, vol. 4, Warsaw 1901, p. 522). In Poland, mines, or as they were formerly called, “żupy” or “gory” were concentrated in the south of the country. Salt was extracted in Wieliczka and Bochnia, and in Olkusz, Chęciny, Sławków, Trzebinia, Jaworzno and Miedziana Góra metal ores – lead, silver and copper.

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In the Middle Ages and modern times, mines were very profitable. Cities were springing up around them all over Europe. This was no different in the Kingdom of Poland, where "Wieliczka grew into a city from a vile hovel" (a quote from Zygmunt Gloger, Encyklopedia staropolska, vol. 4, Warsaw 1901, p. 522). In Poland, mines, or as they were formerly called, “żupy” or “gory” were concentrated in the south of the country. Salt was extracted in Wieliczka and Bochnia, and in Olkusz, Chęciny, Sławków, Trzebinia, Jaworzno and Miedziana Góra metal ores – lead, silver and copper.

Mining trolley, 19th century, Kraków Salt Works Museum in Wieliczka, public domain.

Where there were mines, there were also miners, otherwise known as diggers. As early as in the Middle Ages, they performed the hardest and most dangerous work, which is why it is not surprising that there were slaves and convicts working on many excavation sites. Sometimes they did not even have the right to be buried in the same cemetery as free people.

Criminals sometimes volunteered to work in mines in order to avoid justice. People who preferred to serve in the army or toil away on a ship rather than to meet the master headsman were driven by a similar motivation. Miners from the Lesser Poland province were no saints either, as we know from the written accounts of the transgressions committed by diggers from Bochnia and Wieliczka. On the 10th of November 1593, a certain Stanisław, “a miner from Bochnie” (the original spelling) who belonged to a gang of bandits led by harnaś Paweł Swastak from Sobolów stood in front of a court in Sanok. Stanisław was caught together with several companions during the robbery of a synagogue in Rymanów. It is also known that in 1664 the city guard of Kazimierz had to defend the city against a group of over 100 armed miners who wanted to rob rich Jewish stalls and shops.

However, it was not the rule that the miners had an unenviable position and low social status. They mostly enjoyed personal freedom and their profession was treated with respect. Until the 20th century, even wealthy peasants, for whom a miner’s salary was only an addition to the basic income from their farms, worked at the mine in Wieliczka. They often did so to keep the tradition of practising a prestigious profession in the family. The respect for work underground is also confirmed in a proverb from Wieliczka: “A two-bit thing made of salt tops a crappy sack of gold”. The sense of self-esteem and being different from people doing "ordinary" work on the surface resulted in the creation of a peculiar mining culture which – although regionally diverse – was similar throughout the whole of Europe.

Horn of Salt Diggers Brotherhood of Wieliczka, 1534, Kraków Salt Works Museum in Wieliczka, public domain.

In the Middle Ages mine administrators and diggers of precious ores as well as ordinary diggers, was a multinational environment, similar to city merchants and craftsmen. Germans and inhabitants of other Central European countries were attracted to Wieliczka as early as the 13th century. In the second half of the 14th century, they were joined by less numerous groups of Italians and French. Encompassing many different ethnicities, the profession of miners was similar to the urban environment of merchants and craftsmen. Fraternities of miners, similar to guilds, were established in Bochnia and Wieliczka as early as in the 13th and 14th centuries. A memorial of the greatness of the mining profession in the 16th century is the Horn of the Brotherhood of Diggers from Wieliczka presented on the website, carried on a chain by the fraternity’s elder during major holidays, like in the case of the silver fowler of the Krakow Fowler Brotherhood.

Miners also founded religious fraternities. They had their patrons, to whom they prayed in underground chapels, often decorated with statues and altars made by the miners themselves. Amateur sculpture was something that many diggers dabbled in. In the past, it was an activity particularly popular among disabled miners. The salt sculptures in Wieliczka are the most famous in Poland. Two of them can be seen in three dimensions on the website of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums.

St. Dorothy, St. Vitus, St. Procopius of Sázava, St. Clement, St. Anthony, St. Barbara and St. Anna enjoyed special religious significance in European mining centres. The choice of patrons was not accidental. For example, St. Antoni, who is the guardian of the missing, was to offer assistance when a miner got lost in the tangle of passages, and St. Clement, as the patron of drowners, was helpful in the event of mine flooding.

Painting “St. Kinga praying in the mountains” by Jan Matejko, 1892, public domain.

The most popular patron of miners was, and remains, St. Barbara – the guardian of hard work and a good death. The current liturgical memorial of St. Barbara, known in Poland as “Barbórka”, is the most important holiday in the calendar of mine employees. On this day, various traditional rituals are celebrated, such as the awarding of skewers to deserving employees and jumping over leather – a leather apron, also known as a backsider because it was used for the protection of miners’ buttocks while descending to an adit or resting on damp rocks. Miners also have songs traditional to their profession and even dances, like the famous sword dance performed among others by miners from Sankt Martin in Lower Austria. In Wieliczka and Bochnia, a special cult was enjoyed by  St. Kinga, with whom many legends are associated.

On the occasion of holidays such as Barbórka, miners wear a formal uniform. Diggers wore a distinctive outfit as far back as the Middle Ages – simple kaftans with a hood and mining leather garments which, at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, became part of the festive outfit of mining elites – although it was not a genuine uniform. The first uniforms appeared in the 17th century in Saxony, and in 1719 a real mining fashion show took place. More than a thousand miners appeared in festive uniforms on the occasion of the wedding of Frederick Augustus, the future Polish king Augustus III. In Bochnia and Wieliczka, the first uniforms were introduced by Austrians, a year after the first Partition of Poland. In the nineteenth century, wearing a uniform became common in most mines, and on the territory of the Austrian Partition, the final legal regulation regarding its appearance took place in 1850.

The uniforms from Wieliczka and Bochnia have not changed much since the partitions and in the 20th century, they became a model for mining uniforms for the whole of Poland. After the Second World War, a women’s uniform was also introduced. Nevertheless, it was only in 2008 that Poland terminated the convention banning women from working underground. However, there is still a lack of relevant provisions which would fully regulate this issue.

Traditional mining sword dance, Sankt Martin (Lower Austria), photo by John Asher, CC BY-SA 3.0, source: Wikimedia Commons.

Górnicy jako ludzie wolni mieli też prawo noszenia broni, która do dzisiaj jest elementem uroczystego munduru pracowników kopalń. Na portalu prezentujemy pochodzącą z Saksonii bartę, czyli topór górniczy (niem. Bergbarten), oraz paradną szablę. Wysocy rangą górnicy wieliccy, jak wszyscy urzędnicy w monarchii habsburskiej, mieli prawo noszenia tego rodzaju broni do munduru galowego. Na Górnym Śląsku, który od XVIII wieku należał do Prus, tradycyjnie do uniformu noszona jest szpada.

Oprócz świątecznych zwyczajów i strojów, górników wyróżnia też zawodowy żargon, który nie ogranicza się tylko do sfery języka mówionego. W wielu kopalniach górnicy pracujący w hałasie wypracowali system porozumiewania się za pomocą gestów, a nawet sposób nadawania wiadomości poprzez stukanie w rurociągi. Metalowe rury przenoszą „zaszyfrowane” informacje na duże odległości.

Dziś wiele pamiątek dawnego górnictwa można zobaczyć na wystawie stałej Muzeum Żup Krakowskich w Wieliczce, a część z nich warto obejrzeć na portalu Wirtualne Muzea Małopolski.

Elaborated by: Adam Spodaryk (Editorial Team of Malopolskas Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License..

Bibliography:

  1. Brückner Aleksander, Encyklopedia staropolska, vol. 2, Warszawa 1939, columns 378–382.
  2. Burke Peter, Kultura ludowa we wczesnonowożytnej Europie, Warszawa 2009.
  3. Gloger Zygmunt, Encyklopedia staropolska, vol. 2, Warszawa 1901, pp. 224–226.
  4. Tenże, Encyklopedia staropolska, vol. 4, Warszawa 1901, pp. 521–522.
  5. Janicka-Krzywda Urszula, Górnicy wielickiej kopalni, Kraków 1999.
  6. Sasin Ewelina, „Gdzie diabeł nie może, tam babę pośle”, czyli dlaczego świat się kończy. O ślunskich dziołchach i ich szychcie z Karoliną Bacą-Pogorzelską rozmawia Ewelina Sasin, „Ha!art”, no. 49: Praca, pp. 39–44.
  7. Tenfelde Klaus, Bergarbeiterkultur in Deutschland. Ein Überblick, „Geschichte und Gesellschaft”, vol. 5 (1979), no. 1: Arbeiterkultur im 19. Jahrhundert, pp. 12–53.
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Salt sculpture “St. Kinga of Poland”

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Rzeźba solna „Św. Kinga” odc. B Tells: Piotr Krasny
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