We use cookies
This website uses cookies in order to improve your browsing experience. Read more on our cookie policies.
Visit the extractocene!
G. Geltner
22 November 2023
published in Issue Four

A fresh batch of aspirant miners are trudging up a wooded slope in the Vosges mountains of Alsace-Lorraine. They are heading towards the Eisenthür silver mine, opened in 1549 by permission of Charles III, Duke of Lorraine. En route, they stop at a small village to register with a mining judge, a ducal appointee, and swear an oath to obey the miners’ code of conduct, so help them God. In exchange, miners receive a bundle of benefits beyond the reach of most rural dwellers in preindustrial Europe, which is to say the vast majority of the population. A modest salary, free access to pasture, game, fish, water and timber, as well as tax breaks, safe passage and legal autonomy in many civic matters — these were handsome rewards for a hazardous job, as the era’s magnates knew. In fact, these privileges could garner the envy of contemporaries, as well as suspicion and resentment (not least when the miners were foreign migrants) — or fear, given miners’ reputed contact with the Netherworld.

After a brief ceremony, they gather by a shed at the mine’s entrance, near several workers crushing and washing ores. They collect lamps fueled by lard, hammers, picks and protective gear; some tuck clumps of leaves into their hoods and tunics for protection. Though they have come from different places and speak different languages, according to the official’s register, they all join in singing a Catholic hymn, in German, and exchange the miner’s traditional salute, Glück auf! (Good luck!), before filing into the mine’s Saint-Louis lode. Solidarity, good gear and god’s grace made mining a risk worth taking.

Subscribe to the European Review of Books, from €4.16 per month.
A digital subscription gives you access to our complete Library. A print+digital subscription brings you a print magazine designed like no other.

This text draws on field notes made during a visit to the Vosges in 27-28 May 2023. I am grateful to Joseph Gaunthier and the entire ASEPAM team for their warm hospitality.