Saint Barbara Biography
Saint Barbara was an early Christian saint and martyr. Also referred to as the Great Martyr Barbara by the Eastern Orthodox Church, she is best known for receiving death by beheading by her own father, who was a wealthy pagan. As he couldn’t accept her faith in Christianity, he isolated her in a tower before handing her over to the Roman authorities. Several miracles are said to have followed her death, such as her father being struck dead by lightning after she was killed. Saint Barbara’s veneration was continued for centuries, but more recently, her historicity has been challenged by scholars as no early Christian writings have any reference or mention of her. She was eventually removed from the official Catholic calendar of saints in 1969. Despite this, she is continued to be venerated in several churches. The United States Army Field Artillery Association and the United States Army Air Defense Artillery Association maintain the “Order of Saint Barbara” as an honorary military society as a tribute to Saint Barbara.
- The exact time and place of Barbara’s birth and death are unknown, but she is believed to have been born sometime in mid-3rd century, in Heliopolis, Phoenicia. Her father was a rich pagan named Dioscorus. As her mother died early, Dioscorus was very protective of his daughter.
- She was known to be extremely beautiful and therefore, in order to “protect” her, Dioscorus used to lock her high up in a tower, and only allowed pagan teachers to see his daughter.
- Despite her father’s efforts, she felt that the idols her father and teachers worshipped were not real gods. Having heard about Christianity and Jesus through a tutor, she secretly converted to Christianity and decided to dedicate her life to spread the message and gospel of Christianity. She also chose a life of virginity and decided to dedicate her life to her faith.
- As she grew older, Dioscorus, who was very possessive of her, began to present her with men for marriage. However, she refused them all and told her father not to persist, as it would only ruin his relationship with his only daughter.
- Before going on a journey, her father commanded a luxurious bathhouse to be built for Barbara. She altered his design during his absence, putting three windows instead of two, in order to symbolize the Trinity.
- When her father came back, she acknowledged her new faith in front of him. Dioscorus was extremely furious, and put pressure on her to revert to paganism. However, his daughter refused to listen.
- In his anger, Dioscorus gave her up to the Roman forces. She was tortured brutally, and eventually sentenced to death. Despite all this, she chose to hold on to her faith.
- It is said that her father executed her himself. It is also believed that he was struck by lightning soon after her death, as a punishment from the divine for killing his daughter who was so committed to her faith.
- According to another version of the story, using the power of her prayers, she created an opening in the wall of the tower she was held captive in. Though she was chased by her father and the guards, she hid herself in the gorge of a mountain. However, a shepherd betrayed her location. According to a legend, the shepherd was transformed into a marble statue as punishment.
- The historicity of Saint Barbara’s story has been debated by both Catholic and secular scholars, as there is very little evidence of her existence. There has been no mention of her by any of the Christian writers of the time.
- Moreover, the term ‘Barbara’ was used to mean ‘a barbarian woman’ in those times. It can be debated that no Roman citizen of that time would have given that name to his daughter.
- Eventually, due to lack of evidence, Barbara’s name was removed from the Roman calendar of saints in 1969. However, she is still venerated in the Eastern as well as the Western Churches.
- A miracle attributed to Saint Barbara took place in 1448. The house of a man, who spread negative words about her, caught fire. However, when he called out to her for protection, she not only helped him escape the burning house, but also kept him alive till he received the last sacraments.
- Saint Barbara’s story was included in the ‘Golden Legend,’ a collection of dramatic stories which became very popular during the medieval times, especially after printing was invented. She is mostly depicted standing by a tower with three windows, carrying a palm branch as well as a chalice.
- The date December 4th started being celebrated as Saint Barbara’s Day by several military units in the British Commonwealth. In US, there is an honorary military society named ‘The Order of Saint Barbara’.
- Many churches dedicated to Saint Barbara have been built across the world. The city of Santa Barbara is also dedicated to her.
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