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Comune of Thann  |  The oldest twin links in Europe |  The legend of the thumb |  The History |  Thann: first daughter of Gubbio
The scientific assurance  |  The truth about the relics |  The "Collegiale de St.Thièbaut"

The "Cremation des Trois Sapins" (the lighting of the three fir trees)  
 Visit the web-site of Thann


 Comune of Thann

   The Comune of Thann is situated in France, in the meridional part of the region of Alsace.
  The inhabitants are 7783. + Vieux Thann 1871.
Altitude 338 metres above sea level.

  The city is situated in the valley of Thur and is denominated by a part of the "Schlossberg" on which there are ruins of the Castle of Engelbourg with its so-called "Eye of the witch" and on the other side by the "Staufen"
with the monument of the Alsatian Resistence.
Thann is the meridional door of the famous "road of wine of Alsace", which reaches Strasburg.

  The city conserves important architactonical medieval and renaissance works of art.


 The oldest twin links in Europe

16 maggio 1958
On 16th May 1958 the mayor of Gubbio, Giuseppe Bei Clementi and the mayor of Thann, Pierre Schièlè signed l'official act of twin cities Gubbio - Thann.

But these two cities were already united many centuries before. We can say that this is the "oldest twin tie in Europe", seing that it was created in 1161, and has its reason for existing and its force in the adoration of the common patron: St.Ubaldo, which is called Thièbaut (Teobaldo) probably because at those times the name Ubaldo, unknown in the germanic zone, sounded as the diminutive of Teobaldo.
This is all due to the presence of a relic of St. Ubaldo in Thann, which we know is certainly a part of St.Ubaldo's little finger of his right hand.


 The legend of the thumb

   A legend says that when St.Ubaldo was alive he commanded his servant, originally from northern Europe, to take and keep his Bishop ring for himself at the moment of the saint's death (16th May 1160). The servant did as he was told to do, but when he pulled away the ring, the whole thumb came off. The servant was so shocked, and nevertheless hid that relic as a treasure in his stick knob, and started his journey on foot towards his home town.
   After about a year, on the 30th June 1161, he reached the valley which now is called Thann. It was a very hot day and he was so tired that he put down his stick against a tree and fell asleep under the shade of a fir tree. When he woke up he wanted to continue his journey, but was not able to pull the stick off the ground. In the meantime from his castle the Count Enghelhard saw three flames coming out from the top of the tree without the tree burning, and he immediately rushed to the place where he saw the tree. There he found a man praying in front of his stick. The servant told him the story, and the count, considering it as a holy sign, promised to build a small church on that place to conserve the relic. Then the stick immediately came loose from the ground.



 The History

   This is the legend! But the history confirms it, at least in its substance. The chapel in fact was built, and soon later the first houses, and then Thann grew, and its inhabitants have always celebrated the 30th June 1161 as a foundation date of their city. Two centuries later the construction of the present church started, the "Collegiale de St.Thiébaut", a splendid example of gothic art, where the relic of St. Ubaldo is kept, a relic which we now know with certainty to be a part of the small finger of St. Ubaldo's right hand and not his thumb, as the legend said.

   In the years 1975-76 the specialists of the Vatican Museum made investigations on the body of St. Ubaldo and arrived at the conclusion that the print of the right hand revealed that the small finger had a missing joint, and resulted to be of the same size as the relic of Thann.
   The misunderstanding might be due to the fact that the relic is kept in a small crystal flask in the shape of a thumb.
If we also consider what the first two biographers and contemporaneous (Teobaldo and Giordano) say, the existence of the servant and the wound on the right hand is confirmed.
Teobaldo, in fact, says: "…"... on St.Ubaldo's hand there was a glove missing...then his servant ran quickly and put it in his hand"; while Giordano says: " ... his flesh was of an exceptional light whiteness, without any absolute sore, except the sore on the right".



 Thann: first daughter of Gubbio

   The devotion for St. Ubaldo strongly ties Thann to Gubbio, to the point of the people of Thann saying: "Thann est la fille ainee de Gubbio" (Thann is the first daughter of Gubbio).
   Also for this reason it is for the best that the first "Circle of the Area" of our Association "Eugubini in the world" is formed in Thann: (Circle St.Thiébaut).

   During the centuries the connections between Gubbio and Thann were frequent and never interrupted. Already in the early 1289 Benvenuto, Bishop of Gubbio (1278 - 1294) had been to Alsace, as delegate of the Pope. In the middle of the 1400 the prior of Thann, Nicolas De Wolfach, probably, came to Gubbio to copy the Life of St. Ubaldo written by Teobaldo and the Lithurgy for the Festa of St. Ubaldo; in fact both the texts are included in the Code of Thann.
   In 1544 the priests Ulrich and Thiebaut Hess came to Gubbio where the tradition of the finger of St. Ubaldo at Thann was credible enough to the point that in the consignment document of the Church of St. Ubaldo to the "Regular Lateranese Priests" (1512) it was specified that the body of the Saint had a part of the thumb missing.
   In 1705 a delegation lead by Louis de Rouffach and in 1730 the priests Sigismond Gobel and Colin de Valoreilles were again in Gubbio, with the aim of verifying the tradition of Thann, which in the meantime had been put in serious doubt by the recognition of the body of St. Ubaldo in 1593, in which it is stated: "Corpus inventum intactum cum omnibus suis partibus nullo carens digito nec alio membro..." (the body was found intact with all its parts, with no finger or other member missing...).
   Nevertheless, apart from these facts, the people of Thann never stopped believing in the legend, and in its truth, and in 1761 there was a great feast to celebrate the sixth centenary of the foundation of the City. Then the French Revolution, the napoleonic period, the restauration and the wars of the italian revival made the century pass without any contacts, but in 1860, for the preparation of the seventh centenary of the city, the people of Thann came forward again: the dean of Thann, Jean Grienemberger, asked the Bishop of Gubbio, Innocenzo Sannibale (1855-1891), for a small relic of St. Ubaldo, to have something certain. In this occasion small parts of the scalp and parts of the gloves which for centuries covered the holy hands, were sent to Thann. But no assurance of the authenticity of the relic was possible, and the bishop even had to repeat that which was in the recognition of 1593, that is that the body of St. Ubaldo was intact.


 The scientific assurance

   In Thann all they could do was to proceed with the exam of their relic, and it was found that ".... it is not the whole part of the thumb with its bone, but seems to be frumbled skin..."
   In the following twenty years Europe was upset by two great world conflicts, and only in 1946 the contacts were regained: the bishop Beniamino Ubaldi (1932-1965) was invited to Thann and assisted to the festa of the "Cremations des trois sapins". on the 30th June 1946.
   This visit was very important because the bishop, who saw the great devotion of the people of Thann towards St. Ubaldo, decided to make a new recognition of the Holy Body to verify personally the conditions of the hands, in particular the right one.
   On the 2nd October 1946 the bishop, with the help of Dr. Telesforo Antonioli, proceded with the inspection and it was certified by the doctor that: "…I proceded only with the exam of the hands which are both well preserved in their schelectric parts: on the right the skin in whole...Only on the thumb's part of the palm the bone parts are open due to the absence of skin, which is interrupted in its continuity along the lateral sides of the same thumb, where there are regular clear margins, as if the skin has been removed with a scissors or another sharp object…".
   Consequently a month later (4th November) the bishop sent a letter to Thann saying that he could "deduce that the Holy Relic conserved in the Cathedral of Thann is authentic and is represented by a part of the right hand of St.Ubaldo and to be more precise, the thumb". Then the bishop continued saying: "…we should need a recognition of the relic of St.Ubaldo conserved and blessed in Thann".
   This was done on the 3rd March 1947. The conclusions of the doctors Lèon and Juliette Mangenay are very precise: "the relic is composed of a mutilated squashed rigid hard part of dry flesh….." the dimensions of which are: Height 35 mm, width of the base: 9mm, width of the summit: 5mm, thickness: 4mm. One of the faces of the relic was absolutely smooth and had parallel papillary crests, not curved.
   At this point everything seemed definitely clear. The relationships between the two cities intensified.
Already in 1947 the priest and mayor of Thann: Mons. Barth and Mr. Modeste Zussy visited Gubbio. In 1951 the bishop Ubaldi returned to Thann, accompanied by a little group of eugubinians. In this way they went straight towards the signing of the official act of twin cities which took place on the 16 th May 1958.


 The truth about the relics

   The occasion of the definitive verification of the authenticity of the relic was in the years 1975 - 76, when the body of St. Ubaldo was given in the hands of the vatican museums for the control of the conservation conditions, and for a work of cleanliness and disinfestation.
When the clothes were removed, the body was found absolutely intact. On the specific request of Don Ubaldo Braccini, bishop chancellor and historian, very scrupolous about this whole story, the right thumb was carefully valued. It appeared integral, and the missing substance which Dr. Antonioli noted in 1946 was only an opening caused by the dehydration of the body.
   But soon the missing skin on the surface of the little finger of the right hand was noted. This detail had never been noted because the hand which lay on top of the body, made it difficult to note that specific finger. It was then decided to check the little right finger: the successive reconstruction of the finger showed clearly that the skin around the ringer from the base to the tip had been removed, and even a limb of the facing was missing. And to crown it all, the size of the missing part was exactly the same as that of the relic of Thann in 1947.
   Finally everything was clear! The relic of Thann came from the body of St. Ubaldo, but is not a part of the thumb, as we thought, but a part of the little right finger which had been torn off the body, and not cut off.
   The "Legend" is therefore always less legend and always more history!

  The Count Enghelhard kept his promise to build a small church to keep the relic. Around it the town grew. In 1290 that village was called a city.


La mano di S. Ubaldo, Alla ricerca della verità sui legami tra Thann e Gubbio - "Santuario di S. Ubaldo" - Gubbio 1993.
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 The "Collegiale de St.Thièbaut"

  The great flow of pilgrims stimulated the construction of the present "Collegiale de St. Thièbaut" which lasted more than two centuries and was completed thanks to the generosity of the citizens, the pilgrims and the Asburgs under whose command Thann was from 1324 to 1648.

  The outside of the church is characterized by the presence of 87 statues in stone. The facing has a great portal higher than 15 metres and 8 metres wide, in which the life of the Madonna is represented with a series of 450 personalities. 

   On the inside there are three naves, the oldest one is that on the right, a memory of the old church. The left nave is completely in gothic flame style, and presents a portal on the right of which there is a statue of St. Ubaldo with two pilgrims at his feet. The central nave has four big spans.

   The bell tower, 76 metres high, has four bells, the oldest of which is dedicated to St.Ubaldo, is of the year 1467 and weighs 4000kg. A famous saying says that: "The bell of Strasburg is the highest, that of Friburg is the most massive, but that of Thann is the most beautiful!".

   At the end of the right nave there is a gracious Chapel of St.Ubaldo, which is the most antique part of the primitive construction.
On its inside there is an altar, consecrated in 1961 by the Bishop of Gubbio, Beniamino Ubaldi, with on top a wooden statue of the saint of the 1500's.

   You can read the "Guida della Collegiata di Thann", written in italian by Paolo Salciarini.                


 The "Cremation des Trois Sapins" (the lighting of the three fir trees)

   The festa of Thann in honour of St. Ubaldo also has wonderful aspects. It has very little in common with the Festa of the Ceri, but is just as characteristic and original. Any way, it is in honour of St. Ubaldo, there are three fires, the atmosphere is merry and carefree, according to Pope Celestino III who wanted to celebrate the festa of St. Ubaldo "ylariter" (merrily).

The "Cremations des Trois Sapins" (the lighting of the three fir trees) takes place every 30th of June, the day on which St. Ubaldo's servant arrived in Thann with the relic.

  At 21.00, after the evening prayers, there is the procession with the statue of St. Ubaldo and the lighting of the three trees, which are opened in a way to form a kind of basket, and are then filled with pieces of hay before being decorated with green leaves and finally a small fir tree on top.

   After the three big bonfires which are lit by various important military, religious and civil people, there is a wonderful show of fireworks.
Also some citizens of Gubbio have lit the three big bonfires.

   It is obvious to everyone that St. Ubaldo is represented in a different way between Thann and Gubbio. In particular we note that the saint does not have a beard in his image in Thann. What could be the reason for this diversity? Braccini states that: "the Saint, in his last years of life, might have been forced to shave off his beard because of the skin disease he suffered of, and it was in this way that his servant described him".



Historie de Thann des origines à nos jours - "Editions S.A.E.P. Ingersheim" - Colmar 1981.

La mano di S. Ubaldo, Alla ricerca della verità sui legami tra Thann e Gubbio - "Santuario di S. Ubaldo" - Gubbio 1993.

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GIORDANO da Tiferno
Vita di S. Ubaldo - "Famiglia dei Santantoniari" a cura di A.M. Fanucci - Gubbio 1979.

La Collegiata de Thann - Traduzione di P. Salciarini - Gubbio 1994

Les origines du pièdestal de Saint Thiébaut la Collegiale in "Les Amis de Thann" - Petite et grande Historie n°8 - febbraio 1993.

Leggenda del Beato Ubaldo, vescovo di Gubbio - Tipografia vescovile - Gubbio 1860.

Thann e Gubbio nella storia e nella leggenda - Gubbio 1947.