Saint Barbara Patron Saint of Gunners
Her-story • The hagiography of Saint Barbara says that she was born about A.D. 300 in Nicodemia, Bithynia in Asia Minor. Her father, Dioscurus, was the head of a wealthy aristocratic family. Her parents loved her for her beauty, intelligence and modesty. Dioscurus, who was cruel and a pagan, had her shut in a tower in order to preserve her from suitors. • Influenced by the deacon Valentinus, who later became a bishop and martyr himself, she secretly converted from Polytheism to Christianity. Her father commanded that she be built a bath-house, so that she would not have to use the public baths. The design for the bath-house originally had two windows, but Barbara had a third installed to commemorate the Trinity. She also carved a cross into the marble floor.
Her father, seeing these changes, discovered that she was a Christian. Dioscurus went to his daughter, and when she tried to convert him to Christianity he became furious and wanted to kill her. However, her prayers created an opening in the tower wall and she escaped. Pursued by her father and guards, she hid in a gorge in the mountains. She stayed hidden here until a shepherd betrayed her. As legend has it, the shepherd was transformed into a marble statue and his herd into grasshoppers.
Despite being tortured, Barbara held true to her faith. During the night, the dark prison was bathed in light and new miracles occurred. Every morning her wounds were healed. Torches that were to be used to burn her went out as soon as they came near her. But she did not waver from her faith. Her father had her taken to a Roman Imperial magistrate during a persecution of Christians, who ordered her to be beheaded, and directed that her father carry out the sentence himself. He dragged her up to a mountain and killed her. However, after having done so, he became frightened and tried to flee but, according to the story, was struck dead by lightening in divine retribution. This was the fourth miraculous occurrence during Barbara’s long and painful martyrdom, and according to the legend, Barbara died a martyr’s death on 4 December 306 A.D. Juliana of Nicodemia suffered martyrdom along with Barbara and is likewise venerated as a saint.
Her Memory • St. Barbara is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers (also known as Helpers in Need). Her association with lightning has caused her to be invoked against lightning and fire; by association, she is also the patron of artillery and mining. Her feast is celebrated on December 4 in the Tridentine use of the Roman Catholic saints. • Orthodox Christians have never ceased to venerate St. Barbara, among whom she remains very popular. Her feast day continues to be celebrated on December 4 throughout the Orthodox world. In the 12th century, the relics of St. Barbara were brought from Constantinople to the St Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery in Kiev, where they were kept until the 1930’s, when they were transferred to St. Vladimir’s Cathedral in the same city.
In the Spanish language, the word santabárbara means the magazine of a ship or fortress. It was customary to have a statue of Saint Barbara at the magazine to protect the ship or fortress from suddenly exploding. She is the namesake of the U.S. city of Santa Barbara, California, located approximately 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles. The Franciscan mission there is named in her honour. There were many churches dedicated in her name in Russia, including the one in Moscow next to Saint Basil’s Cathedral and in Yaroslavl.
Patronage • Saint Barbara became the patron saint of artillerymen. She is also traditionally the patron of armourers, gunsmiths, miners and anyone else who worked with cannon and explosives. She is invoked against thunder and lightning and all accidents arising from explosions of gunpowder. • St. Barbara’s Day, 4 December, may be celebrated by British (Royal Artillery) and Canadian (Royal Canadian Artillery) artillery formations, units and sub-units with church parades, sports days, guest nights, cocktail parties, open house, and other activities. The Order of Saint Barbara is a military honour society of the US for both the US Army and the US Marine Corps Artillery, including field artillery and air defence artillery. • Because of her identification with lightning and cannonry, in Santeria she is identified with the god Shango, god of lightning and war
In modern popular culture The first Spanish-language TV Novela filmed in the US and in full color, was the 1973 production of Santa Barbara, Virgen y Martir, filmed entirely on location in Hialeah, Florida. • Saint Barbara is referenced in the song "Don't Let Me Explode" by the rock band The Hold Steady. Before performing the song at 2006's Lollapalooza music festival, lead singer Craig Finn told the story of Saint Barbara to the crowd of several thousand fans. He compared being a Christian in her time to having facial tattoos. • She plays a central role in the Jimmy Buffet bestseller, A Salty Piece of Land.
In art She is depicted in art as standing by a tower with three windows, carrying a palm branch and a chalice; sometimes cannons are depicted by her side.