Anvil firing, also known as anvil launching or anvil shooting, is a traditional event that involves firing an anvil into the air with gunpowder. Although its practice has lessened in recent years, enthusiasts still participate in anvil launching events and competitions. But did you know that this explosive tradition is tied to the celebration of a saint?

Anvil firing was traditionally done on St. Clement’s Day, which falls on November 23. This holiday is a celebration of Pope Clement I, the patron saint of metalworkers and blacksmiths. As such, metalworkers and blacksmiths traditionally enjoyed a holiday on his feast day.

The practice of anvil firing was not only a celebration of St. Clement, but also served as a test of the anvil’s durability. Weak anvils would break under pressure, and had to be re-forged. In the United Kingdom, the term “anvil firing” refers to a method of testing anvils. Black powder is poured onto the top of the anvil and ignited. If the anvil does not shatter, it is deemed safe to use.

During St. Clement’s Day celebrations, the smith, or apprentice, dressed up in a wig, mask, and cloak to represent “Old Clem.” He led a procession of smiths through the streets, stopping at taverns along the way. Boisterous singing was followed by demands for free beer or money for the “Clem feast.”

Traditional toasts included “True hearts and sound bottoms, check shirts and leather aprons” and “Here’s to old Vulcan, as bold as a lion, A large shop and no iron, A big hearth and no coal, And a large pair of bellowses full of holes.”

Today, anvil firing is still practiced in some places to honor St. Clement, but it is also enjoyed as a fun and exciting spectacle. Anvils are often launched several feet into the air, with showers of sparks and a loud boom. The tradition may have evolved over time, but it remains a unique and memorable way to celebrate the patron saint of metalworkers and blacksmiths.

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