We sometimes get calls from various customers asking about the tradition of luck and the
chimney sweep. Whether if it's from Bert (Dick Van Dyke) talking about luck rubbing off onto you
when he plays his part on Mary Poppins or maybe the same concept is employed when sweeps
are hired to attend weddings in England for good luck.
Perhaps the story started when an 18th century sweep saved the life of a rider on a panicked
horse. To every one’s surprise, the rider was the king himself. The sweep had already
disappeared into the crowd and from that day forward, the king declared all chimney sweeps as
We like to think that perhaps it's not luck. In the 3rd century there was a roman soldier who was
a secret Christian…
The Story of... Saint Florian, the Patron Saint of Chimney Sweeps
Saint Florian was born in Austria in the 3rd century about 250 A.D. in
Cetium (now in Austria). Saint Florian was an officer of the Roman
army. He advanced in the ranks and occupied a high administrative post
in Noricum, now part of Austria. The saint suffered "death for the Faith"
in the days of Diocletian. Although he became an officer of the Roman
army, he didn't observe a "don't ask, don't tell" policy and confessed to
his Christianity in anti-Christian times.
He performed many heroic feats including saving an entire town from a
rampaging fire with one bucket of water, and thus his association with
firefighters and those who protect us from fire, including chimney
sweeps. He is often depicted holding a pitcher.
His legendary "Acts" state that he gave himself up at Lorch to the soldiers of Aquilinus, and the
governor of Lorch, when they were rounding up the Christians. The Emperor Diocletian was
shocked to learn that Florian did not carry out his orders to persecute all Christians in the area,
and, thus, was sentenced to death by fire. Standing on the funeral pyre, Florian is reputed to
have challenged the Roman soldiers to light the fire, saying "If you do, I will climb to heaven on
the flames." Apprehensive to his words, instead of burning Florian, he was flogged and flayed
after making the bold confession. He was twice scourged, half-flayed alive, set on fire, and
finally thrown into the river Enns with a stone around his neck. His body was recovered by a
pious woman, and he was buried honorably.
About 600 years later, sometime between 900-955, a monastery was erected near Saint Florian's
tomb, and subsequently the village of Saint Florian grew up around it. His body, recovered and
was eventually removed to the Augustinian Abbey of Saint Florian, near Linz. Saint Florian was
adopted as patron saint of Poland after Pope Lucius III, in 1138, consented to the request of King
Casimir of Poland and to the Bishop of Cracow, to send relics of Saint Florian to that country.
Since that time, Saint Florian has been regarded as a patron of Poland as well as of Linz, Upper
Austria and of firemen. Soon after, a person was saved from a fire by invoking Saint Florian's
name. Since then, Saint Florian has been invoked against fire and has generally been regarded in
most countries as the patron saint of firefighters. Saint Florian is also the patron of soap boilers,
Austria and Poland.
There has been popular devotion to Saint Florian in many parts of central Europe, and the
tradition as to his martyrdom, not far from the spot where the Enns flows into the Danube, is
ancient and reliable. Many miracles of healing are attributed to his intercession and he is
invoked as a powerful protector in danger from fire, and floods and against drowning. His feast
day is May 4th/17th.
So when you have your chimney cleaned by a chimney sweep, and happen to experience a little
bit of good luck, maybe it's just a little bit of blessing from God & His Angels thanks to Saint
Florian and his courageous deeds.
Other Chimney Sweeps Customs:
Did you know that it's good luck to see a chimney sweep on
your wedding day, and most especially to shake his hand or be kissed
by him? Many chimney sweeps today are still invited to weddings to
help assure a good start to a happy marriage. The tradition goes back,
so it is said, to a chimney sweep who lost his footing and fell from
a roof. He was caught on the gutter and hanging by his foot when
a young lass, whose hand was intended for another, reached through
the window and pulled him in, saving his life. They fell in love and
the two were later married.
Pigs & Chimney Sweeps…
Pigs and chimney sweeps are linked
together in tradition as good luck
charms. It once was customary for the
town chimney sweep to tote a pig
through the streets on New Year's Day;
people paid a small sum to make a wish while pulling a hair from
the pig. You don't see us doing that any more, and I'm sure the
pigs are pretty happy about that; they probably weren't so
enthusiastic about the custom, despite how they are depicted
Chimney Sweeps & traditional symbols
Again, the lucky little chimney sweeps are pictured here with
good luck symbols - the horseshoe and shamrock.
Being a chimney sweep was not lucky for the little girls and boys who had this job in the 1700's
to 1800's. They were a type of indentured servant, bought by the chimney sweep master. The
master was to teach them the trade while being responsible for housing them. Their job was to
actually climb up, inside the chimney, brushing the flue as they went, and they weren't done till
their heads poked out of the chimney top. This, of course, was a
scary job for these children and they were often reluctant to
perform as expected. Many masters used a dangerous punishment:
the child was forced up the flue then a fire was lit. Since he couldn't
come down, they had no choice but to climb up the flue. We think
this is where the term "light a fire under you" originated.
These children lived in deplorable conditions. They carried a large
sack with them, into which they dumped the soot they swept from
the chimneys. They used this same sack as a blanket to sleep in at
night, and only bathed infrequently. They were often sickly, and
learned to beg handouts of food and clothing from their customers
as all the money they earned went to their masters. The soot they
collected was sold to farmers for fertilizer.
As seen in this picture, some chimney sweeps were girls, and these
two are toting shamrocks for good luck.
Top Hats & Tails???
Why did chimney sweeps wear top hats and tails? They are said to have most often gotten their
clothing as cast-offs from funeral directors. The outfit was always a very practical black in color,
and gave an air of distinction to a dirty, though necessary, job. Chimney sweeps often served
double duty as the town's "night man", whose job it was to clean out the privy. It is said that
chimney sweeps wore slippers because they could be more easily removed, freeing the toes to
aid their climbing grip.
Not many chimney sweeps carry on the tradition of top hats and tails as their standard attire
these days, as many feel the garb demeans the seriousness of the jobs we perform, which are
not only sweeping chimneys but performing repairs and maintenance of many types. (The
topcoat tails also make it difficult to climb a ladder.) We all probably have them tucked away in
the back of our closets and still can be convinced to wear them for weddings and photo ops.
Throughout the centuries, chimney sweeps have cared for the safety of the town folk,
performing one of those dirty jobs nobody likes to do. Most American cities had ordinances
requiring regular chimney sweeping as a valuable safety service. Homes were located very close
together and everyone burned wood or coal to heat and cook. Our job is as important today as
ever but sweeps now care for chimneys serving a huge variety of home appliances and heating
Chim Chim Cheree
The Song from a Most Famous Sweep
Performed by: Bert (Dick Van Dyke) from Mary Poppins
Written by: Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
Chim chiminey When the's 'ardly no day
Chim chiminey Nor 'ardly no night
Chim chim cher-ee! There's things 'alf in shadow
A sweep is as lucky And 'alf way in light
As lucky can be On the roof tops of London
Coo, what a sight!
Chim chiminey I choose me bristles with pride
Chim chim cher-oo! Yes, I do
Good luck will rub off when A broom for the shaft
I shake 'ands with you And a broom for the flume
Or blow me a kiss
And that's lucky too Though I'm covered with soot
From me 'ead to me toes
Now as the ladder of life A sweep knows 'e's welcome
'As been strung Wherever 'e goes
You may think a sweep's
On the bottommost rung Chim chiminey
Though I spends me time Chim chim cher-ee!
In the ashes and smoke When you're with a sweep
In this 'ole wide world You're in glad company
There's no 'appier bloke
No where is there
Up where the smoke is A more 'appier crew
All billered and curled Than them wot sings
'Tween pavement and stars "Chim chim cher-ee
Is the chimney sweep world Chim cher-oo!"
On the chim chiminey
Chim chim cher-ee
So when you meet a sweep, remember to shake
his hand for luck or a blessing, for it's a safer
home you have when you use the services of
a professional chimney sweep.