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St. Barbara — Virgin, Martyr

November 30, 2018

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St. Barbara

St. Barbara is one of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages, particularly in Europe. She is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers and is invoked against lightning, fever, and sudden death.

According to the story, which may be a legend, Barbara was born in Nicomedia, Turkey, in the Third Century AD. Her father was Dioscorus of Heliopolis, a pagan. Barbara was so beautiful that he hid her in a tower to protect her. A Christian disguised as a doctor went to the tower, and after he told her about Jesus and the gospel, and after considerable time in solitude to reflect, she converted to Christianity. Meanwhile, one eligible bachelor after another approached Dioscorus to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Her father approached her to suggest marriage, but she flatly refused, explaining that she had reserved herself completely for Jesus, and her father, infuriated, left her confined in the tower.

Her father then departed for a while on business, and during his absence a new bathhouse was under construction near the tower, and two windows were to be installed. Barbara commanded the builders to add a third in honor of the Most Holy Trinity. When her father returned and discovered what she had done, he became enraged, and attempted to kill his own daughter, but she escaped. The account of her breakaway varies, either that she leapt out of the window and landed safely or that a hole miraculously appeared in the wall. She fled to a mountain and hid in a cave, but an evil shepherd betrayed her whereabouts to her father, and the shepherd subsequently turned to stone and his sheep turned into locusts.

Dioscorus, her father, dragged his daughter by the hair before a judge, who had her tortured, but her wounds healed instantly. Her father then took her up a mountain and beheaded his own daughter with a sword. Reports on the date and location vary, somewhere between 303 of 306 AD, and either in Rome, Antioch, Heliopolis, or Nicomedia. Shortly thereafter there was thunder in the sky, fire came down from heaven, and her father was struck dead by lightning, and he was reduced to a pile of ashes.

The symbols of St. Barbara are a tower, often with three windows, where she was held captive; a chalice, because she drank from the cup of suffering (see Mt 20:22,23; 26:39; Mk 10:38,39; 14:36; Lk 22:42); a sword, which was the instrument of her martyrdom; a crown, because she was crowned with martyrdom (see Acts 7:60); and a palm, the symbol of the martyrs (Rv 7:9).

St. Barbara is the patron saint of stonemasons, architects, and builders, because she was held captive in a stone tower; of those afraid of being struck by lightning or fearful of sudden death, because her father died suddenly due to a lightning strike; firefighters, because many fires are started by lightning; gunners, artillerymen, gunpowder makers, fireworks personnel, and miners, anyone associated with explosives, because of the fire that rained down from heaven; and mathematicians and those suffering with a fever.

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