The silver-veins mining of the Val d’Argent that brought the prosperity of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines began in the 11th century. Strolling through the city and its surroundings you will find many remnants of the mining era of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines.
THE REFORMED TEMPLE
Among the many churches of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, the Reformed Church is the oldest protestant church of France that was used as a worship place without interruption since October 1, 1634, at the beginning of the mining industry boom.
It is also the starting point of the Amish culture, whose founder Jakob Amman celebrated with worship there, founding the bases of this dissident movement still present in Pennsylvania. This episode in the history of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines is celebrated every year during the European Patchwork Meeting.
THE MINERS’ TOWER
Mineworkers belonged to a fraternity (Knappschaft) that used since 1550 its own jurisdiction presided by a judge of mines, and benefiting from a Mineworkers’ Fund (early phase of a social security fund). The mineworkers used to pay a fee every week: “Wochenpfennig”, which corresponded to 1/100th of their salary. The collected money was used to help the sick, the disabled, widows and orphans, the needy, and to pay a teacher and a pastor.
This tower, sometimes called “Clock Tower” in neoclassical style was built in the 16th century with a bell on top of its square donjon. It housed the juvenile court on the 1st floor, 2 cells had been built in the basement to incarcerate the convicts.
Later, the Tower was used as a school and protestant presbytery before it became the mineworkers’ office until the late 20th century, even after the closing of the mines in 1940.
Registered as Historical Monument since 1993, this building is unique, both for its architecture and as a witness of the mining community life.
The present church was built in the 15th and 16th centuries, but the bell tower dates from the 13th century. It is located on a small hill above the hamlet of Echery, starting point for Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines development.
It is surrounded by a cemetery with many miners’ graves. Its picturesque setting, along with its interior that can only be lighted by candles, gave it the reputation of being a magical place where every summer the Candlelight Festival takes place.
The church, registered as Historical Monument since 1932, is the only place of worship in France that welcomes three religions: the Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed churches.
THE HEADQUARTERS OF THE MINING ADMINISTRATION
This mansion, in typical German Renaissance style dates from the 16th century and was occupied by the headquarters of the mining administration, and for the Alsatian side of the city the seigniorial administration. It was set up after the discovery of some rich veins of silver at the beginning of the century. This is the only house of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines endowed with crow-stepped gable.
A block of argentiferous galena is inserted in its walls. It was extracted from the mines of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines and recalls the discovery in 1581 of a pure silver block of 592 kg.
This mansion was originally built to house the Officers of mines, coming from Saxony and Bohemia to exploit the silver veins in the mid-sixteenth century. It later became the town hall of the Alsatian side of Sainte-Marie Alsace, and it now houses a pharmacy.
THE RENAISSANCE HOUSE (1596)
This is a typical example of a house that was built in the late 16th century, during the renewal time of silver mining.
The large cross windows with mullions and transoms forming a Latin cross are characteristic of the Renaissance time and are more or less ornate.
The construction date is etched in a corner of the building and on the carved and pierced lintel of the main street door. This door is flanked by two carved pink sandstone pilasters.
There is a ring for attaching a horse on the right pillar of the door. ‘Gluck auf’ is written on the front wall of the house, miners’ words of greeting. It became now a Wistub: traditional Alsatian restaurant.