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The Festival of St Barbar


The small town of Niccioleta, a hamlet of Massa Marittima, joins Ribolla and Boccheggiano in celebrating St Barbara, the patron saint of miners.
Niccioleta and Ribolla are two mining villages, constructed by the Montecatini company and founded to serve the mines. Over time, the villages grew up around these mines.
Though it has existed since ancient times (it had a castle and a medieval village), Boccheggiano bound its destiny to the pyrite mines in Campiano. Over 12 years have passed since the last mine closed, however the memory of that era still lingers in the faces of these villages’ inhabitants, the architectural style of their streets and buildings and in the last mining towers still standing. Work down the mines had two sides which have not been entirely forgotten: the sense of precariousness that comes with such a dangerous job and lives in the hearts of workers and their families every day and a sense of belonging to a community, a feeling that is stronger than elsewhere due to the danger posed by the mines and the difficult conditions of working underground. These secular values merged with religious symbolism among mining communities, creating a special kind of religious belief. This ensured that over the course of the years a deep devotion to a special saint – St Barbara – became rooted in the population.
St Barbara was martyred because she had converted to Christianity, murdered by her father Dioscorus who was struck by divine lightning and reduced to ashes immediately after killing her. Due to this tragic story, Barbara became the patron saint of those who find themselves in danger of sudden death.
After the invention of gunpowder, she became particularly venerated so that those who worked with this substance would be preserved from fire and lightning, hence she became the patron saint of bomb disposal experts, artillerymen, miners, firefighters and carpenters.

Every year, on St Barbara’s Day (4th December), miners and their families would meet in their places of work and pray to St Barbara, asking her to continue to protect them every day from the dangers of the mine.
The festival of St Barbara was more than that. It was the biggest festival of the year. It combined religious events with many different popular celebrations. Even though extraction work ended in 1992, the local population still celebrates this saint’s day every year.