Although there are no authentic historical accounts concerning St. Barbara, it is evident that she has been venerated since the seventh century. There are many legends surrounding this virgin and martyr, however. According to some of these, Barbara was the daughter of a wealthy pagan named Dioscorus who kept her locked in a tower most of her life. He wanted to be in complete control of her and treated her more like one of his possessions than a beloved daughter.
Once, before going on a journey, he had a bathhouse built for her near the tower where he kept her hidden from the world. He specified that it would have two windows, but in his absence Barbara requested that another window be added to symbolize the Trinity. Her father returned from his journey with news that he had received a proposal of marriage for her, but she refused the offer. She then acknowledged to her father that she was a Christian and as such had consecrated herself to God, intending to remain a virgin for life. This so enraged her father that he handed her over to the prefect of the province, Maximinus.
This cruel prefect had her tortured and eventually condemned to death by beheading her. Her executioner was none other than her own father! On his way home after carrying out this heinous deed, he was struck by lightning and his body was consumed.
The account of Barbara’s father having been struck by lightning probably led to her being considered by the people to be the patron saint for those in danger of thunderstorms or fire. In 1448, a man named Henry Kock nearly lost his life in a fire at Gorkum. But given his great devotion to St. Barbara, he credited her with his escape and with keeping him alive until a priest was able to come and administer the last sacraments.
St. Barbara is often portrayed in art as standing in a tower with three windows, holding the palm of a martyr in her hand. In other depictions, she is often shown holding a chalice and a sacramental wafer.
St. Barbara, please intercede for us, and guide us, not only in times of danger of fire destroying our physical bodies, but more importantly for those times when our souls are in danger of eternal fire. Amen.
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. Hilary of Poitiers (368), Bishop, Doctor
St. Felix (260), Priest, Martyr
St. Sava (1235), Bishop, Patron of the Serbian people