Tag Archives: Virgin

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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St. Scholastica, Virgin and Religious

February 8, 2013

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St. Benedict speaking to St. Scholastica detail at Seven Dolors in Albany

St. Benedict speaking to St. Scholastica detail at Seven Dolors in Albany

St. Scholastica (480-547) was born in Nursia, Italy, in 480 AD.  She is the twin sister of St. Benedict.  As a young woman she consecrated herself to God, and she remained at home to assist her father while her brother Benedict went to Rome to study.

St. Benedict is the founder of Western monasticism, the one who developed the concept of men living together in a religious community in a monastery for a spiritual purpose under a rule of life.  Upon his return from Rome he founded a monastery at Monte Casino.

In parallel fashion, St. Scholastica founded a house for women religious or a convent at Plombariola only five miles south of Monte Casino.  Previously women who wished to live a more intense spiritual life did so on their own in seclusion and occasionally a few women would live together.  St. Scholastica expanded the communal life dimension.  She gathered women who wished to focus more exclusively on God into larger groups, usually younger virgins and older widows.  In the convent they were able to separate themselves from the concerns and temptations of the world to concentrate on a life of prayer, mutual support, and good works.

St. Benedict was the abbot or superior of the monastery, and St. Scholastica was the abbess or superior of the convent.  Even though they lived separately they stayed in close communication and shared a strong spiritual bond.  Once each year they met for a single day to pray and discuss spiritual matters, and because Scholastica was not permitted to enter the monastery, their meeting took place at a home between the two.

They had a remarkable final meeting.  Scholastica was advanced in age and had a premonition that her time was short, so after dinner she asked her brother to stay longer.  The Benedictine Rule requires a monk to be in the monastery every night, so Benedict declined.  Scholastica said a quick prayer and almost instantly a violent thunderstorm broke out which forced Benedict to remain indoors.  Benedict exclaimed, “Sister, what have you done?”  She answered, “I asked a favor of you and you refused it.  I asked it of God and he has granted it.”

Three days later St. Scholastica died and St. Benedict, who was praying at that moment, looked up and saw her soul ascending to heaven in the form of a dove.

St. Scholastica is considered the founder of the Benedictine sisters; her symbols are a dove, the book of the Benedictine Rule, and a pastoral staff; she is the patron saint of women religious; and she is a special intercessor against storms and lightening, and for children suffering convulsions.

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ST. CATHERINE OF ALEXANDRIA, Virgin and Martyr

November 24, 2010

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St. Catherine of Alexandria - Window at St. Bridget in DeGraf

St. Catherine of Alexandria is a saint of great interest locally because she is the patron saint of St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota.  November 25 was her feast day for many years.  She was dropped from the liturgical calendar in 1969, but recently her memorial was reinstated in the revised Roman Missal.  There is little reliable historical data about her life, but her legendary story is inspiring.

Youthful beginnings. St. Catherine lived in Alexandria, Egypt, during the fourth century AD.  She was born into an upper class pagan Roman family.  She was blessed with intellectual genius and a fierce hunger for learning, as well as striking beauty, but as attractive as she was, she preferred learning and philosophy to marriage.

Her conversion story. There are two main legends about Catherine’s conversion to Christianity.  According to the first, the Blessed Mother appeared to a hermit in the Egyptian desert.  The hermit went to Catherine and showed her an image of the Madonna and Christ child which led to her immediate conversion at the age of eighteen.  Not only that, she was “mystically married” to Christ, and the Christ child placed a ring on her finger.  According to another version, the Christ child and the Blessed Mother appeared to her directly.

Incredible bravery. Subsequently Catherine preached about Jesus and the gospel throughout Alexandria at a time when the emperor Maxentius was conducting a persecution against Christians.  In a bold and daring move, Catherine approached the emperor, scolded him for his persecution, and voiced strong arguments against the pagan Roman gods.  The emperor could not withstand her wisdom so he assembled fifty leading pagan philosophers to debate with her.  Not only did Catherine win the debate, they all converted to Christianity.  Incensed, the emperor had all fifty burned to death, but he spared Catherine because he lusted for her.

A mystical marriage untainted. Maxentius was enthralled with Catherine’s beauty, and he tried to seduce her, even though he was a married man with a queen.  He went so far as to promise Catherine that he would crown her his new queen.  Catherine flatly denied his advances.  Rejected and mortified, the enraged emperor had Catherine beaten and thrown into prison.

A curious twist. Intrigued by Catherine, both the queen and an army general went secretly to visit Catherine in prison.  Because of her remarkable faith, both the empress, the general, and two hundred prison guards converted.  Maxentius went berserk and had them all executed.

Catherine’s martyrdom. The emperor decided to torture Catherine’s chaste body by stretching it over a large spiked wheel with tall points on the surface and a sharp blade on the side.  Miraculously, before the torture could begin, her shackles were loosened and the wheel shattered, reportedly by angels.  She was finally beheaded.  Then, according to the legend, her body was flown by the angels to Mount Sinai where she was buried.

A strong advocate. St. Catherine of Alexandria is the patron saint of philosophers, librarians, university students, young women, preachers, apologists, lawyers, notaries, and wheelwrights.    She is also revered as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, a group of saints thought to have special intercessory power.

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