Saint Nicholas in Fribourg


Category:
Social practices
Canton:

Description

Every year on the evening of the first Saturday in December, Saint Nicholas rides into Fribourg on his donkey, escorted by a procession of musicians, singers and “Whipping Fathers”. The snowy-bearded saint wears a mitre and white silk robe as he makes his way through the town, accompanied by flaming torches and ringing bells, before taking possession of his cathedral once more. He ascends the tower to address the crowd of almost 30,000 that gathers in the surrounding streets and squares, where a festive fair has been in full swing – and mulled wine has been flowing freely – since the morning. This is a day for Fribourg natives of all ages, many of whom have returned to their home town for the occasion, to recapture a small part of their childhood. Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children, visits families in a number of areas to reward children who have been good with a gingerbread man in his image and punish those who have not by leaving them at the mercy of the Whipping Father.

In its current form, revived in 1906 on the initiative of a group of schoolchildren, the Fribourg festival of Saint Nicholas is organised by Saint Michael’s school. The pupils, their teachers, the city council and the church all play a part. Such is the success of the festival that reality and fiction seem to blend into each other these days as the genuine bishop officially welcomes the pretend one under the cathedral’s porch.

Image gallery

  • Saint Nicholas procession and address in Fribourg, December 2007 © Vincent Murith, Belfaux, 2007
  • Saint Nicholas procession and address in Fribourg, December 2007 © Vincent Murith, Belfaux, 2007
  • Saint Nicholas aboard a jeep on the streets of Bulle – accompanied by the "Flons-Flons" dressed in black, he goes from house to house to give presents to children © Compagnie de Saint Nicolas, Tretaux de Chalamala, Bulle
  • Saint Nicholas in Bulle © Compagnie de Saint Nicolas, Tretaux de Chalamala, Bulle
  • The students of Saint Michael’s school escorting Saint Nicholas with their torches, 1950s © Fonds Jacques Thévoz/Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire Fribourg
  • Saint Nicholas on his donkey is the centrepiece of the procession. The role is played by a student. c. 1950 © Fonds Jacques Thévoz/Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire Fribourg
  • Saint Nicholas in Bulle © Compagnie de Saint Nicolas, Tretaux de Chalamala, Bulle
  • Saint Nicholas in Bulle © Compagnie de Saint Nicolas, Tretaux de Chalamala, Bulle
  • Saint Nicholas visiting a family in the town of Bulle © Alphonse Derungs/Musée gruérien, vers 1950
  • Saint-Nicolas Fribourg © Martial Gobet
  • Saint-Nicolas Fribourg © Martial Gobet
  • Saint-Nicolas Fribourg © Martial Gobet
  • Saint-Nicolas Fribourg © Martial Gobet
  • Saint-Nicolas Fribourg © Martial Gobet
  • Saint Nicholas procession and address in Fribourg, December 2007 © Vincent Murith, Belfaux, 2007
  • Saint Nicholas procession and address in Fribourg, December 2007 © Vincent Murith, Belfaux, 2007
  • Saint Nicholas aboard a jeep on the streets of Bulle – accompanied by the "Flons-Flons" dressed in black, he goes from house to house to give presents to children © Compagnie de Saint Nicolas, Tretaux de Chalamala, Bulle
  • Saint Nicholas in Bulle © Compagnie de Saint Nicolas, Tretaux de Chalamala, Bulle
  • The students of Saint Michael’s school escorting Saint Nicholas with their torches, 1950s © Fonds Jacques Thévoz/Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire Fribourg
  • Saint Nicholas on his donkey is the centrepiece of the procession. The role is played by a student. c. 1950 © Fonds Jacques Thévoz/Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire Fribourg
  • Saint Nicholas in Bulle © Compagnie de Saint Nicolas, Tretaux de Chalamala, Bulle
  • Saint Nicholas in Bulle © Compagnie de Saint Nicolas, Tretaux de Chalamala, Bulle
  • Saint Nicholas visiting a family in the town of Bulle © Alphonse Derungs/Musée gruérien, vers 1950
  • Saint-Nicolas Fribourg © Martial Gobet
  • Saint-Nicolas Fribourg © Martial Gobet
  • Saint-Nicolas Fribourg © Martial Gobet
  • Saint-Nicolas Fribourg © Martial Gobet
  • Saint-Nicolas Fribourg © Martial Gobet

References and documentation

Publications
  • Valérie Clerc : Saint-Nicolas un phare dans le paysage identitaire fribourgeois. In : Annales fribourgeoises no. 61/62, 1994-1997, p. 383-397

  • Jean-Marie Hirt (Ed.) : La Saint-Nicolas. Coffret avec fiches et DVD. Fribourg, 2006

  • Jean Steinauer (Ed.) : Saint-Nicolas. Les aventures du patron de Fribourg. Fribourg, 2005

  • Jean Steinauer : Saint Nicolas à la carte. Images du patron de Fribourg 1916-1991. Fribourg, 1991

  • Tréteaux de Chalamala (Ed.) : Saint Nicolas, tradition vivante. Bulle, 1984

  • Jacques de Voragine : La Légende dorée. Ed. Alain Boureau. Paris, 2004

Documentation