3rd or 4th Century: December 4
It is amazing how a saint who was once one of the most popular and venerated saints of the Greek and Roman Catholic churches during the early Middle Ages is today believed to not having ever existed at all. Maybe it’s because the original Greek accounts of her martyrdom are nowhere to be found. However the Syriac, Latin and other versions are still extant.
Our saint became very popular when her story appeared in great detail in the book The Golden Legend which became a best seller during that time. Because of her fame she became venerated as one of the 14 Auxiliary Saints or Holy Helpers especially as the patroness of artillerymen and firemen among many others such as architects, builders, masons, armorers, gunsmiths, miners and even gravediggers. She is also invoked as protection in times of lightning, thunderstorms, fire, artillery bombardments, explosions, injustice, violence and against sudden death. She is even believed to bring Holy Communion to the faithful at times of death.
It was no wonder that her statue was to be found in almost every home and business as a talisman or protection against all sorts of evil happenings. Like our beloved Michael the Archangel she assured the people of universal protection and justice.
And yet despite her widespread popularity so that she became one of the greatest saints of the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church because of doubts about the historical accuracy of the accounts about her, her feast on December 4 was removed from the universal liturgical calendar in 1969.
Once again we have to rely on tradition and legend to reproduce the story of this saint who to this day has a set of loyal followers.
It is believed that she lived and died during the 3rd or 4th century in either Rome, Heliopolis, Antioch, Tuscany or Nicomedia. While many chroniclers disagree on her time and place they agree on several important details of her life.
According to an elaborate legend Barbara was the beautiful daughter of Dioscuros, a wealthy pagan or non-Christian official in the time of Emperor Maximian who was placed by her father to live guarded in a high tower.
The reason for his doing this is varied. Some say that it was because Barbara rejected her many suitors and resisted her father’s demand that she marry. Some say that as she was an only child her father wanted no man to see her. Others believed it was to protect and isolate her against the considerable social upheaval and growing Christian movement that was taking place at that time.
Whatever the reason was Barbara was committed to live in that tower. However it was no prison or dungeon nor was she forced to live in total isolation. One writer said she even entertained her friends and got a great education tutored by excellent teachers.
Because she had so much time for meditation and contemplation she begun to question the necessity of worshipping a pantheon of gods instead of just one. As her father was away on a business trip she sent to Alexandria for the famous teacher Origen to give her religious instruction. It was due to his teaching that Barbara was converted and became a Christian.
As her father was then having constructed as a gift to Barbara a new bathhouse on the grounds of the tower Barbara changed the design and ordered a third window be installed to symbolize the Holy Trinity. All pagan statues and images she had taken out and replaced by a simple cross.
So when her father returned and saw what had happened, he demanded to know the reason for the changes. Bravely Barbara admitted that she had the third window installed because “Grace comes to us through three channels, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” The three windows were like the Holy Trinity which brings light to the world.
On hearing this her father became so enraged on knowing that his worst fear had happened. His beloved daughter Barbara had become a Christian!
Dragging her to the provincial prefect the fanatical father denounced her as such. She was immediately tortured for refusing to sacrifice to the pagan gods.
Some say that the judge then condemned her to die by beheading. Others say that it was the infuriated father who not satisfied with her punishment decided to mete out his own justice. Taking her up the mountain he took out his sword and himself beheaded her.
On coming down from the mountain he was struck by lightning and consumed by fire.
Because Barbara prayed fervently before her death she was believed to be an intercessor for those about to die without the sacraments.
SOURCES of REFERENCE
Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Vol. IV – pp. 487 – 489
The Illustrated World Encyclopedia Saints – p. 100
The Book of Saints – p. 302
Pocket Dictionary of Saints – p. 61
The Watkins Dictionary of Saints – p. 27
A Calendar of Saints – p. 234
Illustrated Lives of the Saints – Vol. II 549 – 550
Saints for Our Time – pp. 245 – 246
The Big Book of Women Saints – p. 364
Saints – A Visual Guide – pp. 126 – 127
The Everything Saints Book – p. 223
Book of Saints – Part 4 – pp. 28 -29
Novenas – pp. 82 -83