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Saint Barbara, a Virgin Martyr, is the patron saint of firefighters, soldiers, prisoners, stone masons, those who have dangerous professions, construction workers, builders, mathematicians, and the city of Santa Barbara, California. She died by the sword, but her killers were struck down by lightning, so she is often called on for protection from lightning and for protection from violent and unpredictable death. She is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. Her feast day is December 4th.

Saint Barbara, whose name means "barbarian woman," lived during the late 3rd and early 4th centuries in Nicomedia, Bithynia, Asia Minor. According to legend, her pagan father, Dioscorus, kept her locked in a tower to preserve her virginity. She spent years in the tower hauling her food and laundry up and down by means of a basket on a rope. One day a stranger slipped a book about Christianity into her basket, and, upon reading it, she feigned sicknes and sent for a doctor. The man who arrived was a priest, who secretly baptised her.

When her father finally found a suitable husband for Barbara, she admitted to being a Christian and refused the marriage. She escaped from the tower and hid out among some shepherds, but was re-captured. The prefect of the province, Martinianus, also called the procounsel Marcian, ordered her to be paraded naked though the town. A fog came up suddenly and hid her from the crowd. He then ordered her to be tortured with the flames from burning torches, and condemned to death. The torches did not burn her, so on December 4th, 306, her father carried out the death sentence by beheading her. On his way home, he was miraculously struck by lightning and killed, in what appeared to be an act of divine retribution. Because there have been doubts about the historical accuracy of this story, Saint Barbara was removed from the Catholic liturgical calendar in 1969. However, like Saint Christopher and Saint Expedite , who were similarly "de-sainted" at the same time, her popularity continues unabated.

The iconography of Saint Barbara generally shows her dressed in white and red. The sky may be dark and foggy, with jagged flasshes of lightning above. Often the tower in which she was kept captive is depicted the background, but in some images, she holds a small model of a tower in her hands or wears a crown which mimics the crenelated top of a stone fortress-tower. In addition to the tower, images associated with Saint Barbara include the sword with which she was beheaded, a chalice, the palm branch of her martyrdom, and the lilies of virginity, A little plant bearing white daisy-like flowers -- either Feverfew or Life Everlasting -- often blooms at her feet.

In Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, among Arab Christians, Saint Barbara's Day is often celebrated with offerings of white barley and red pomegranate seeds, sweetened with raisins, anise, and sugar.


Prayer to Saint Barbara

In mainstream Catholic practice, prayers for the intercession of Saint Barbara are fairly conventional and do not ask for safety from lightning or while handling ammunition or explosives. Here is a typical petition, as found on the back of a Saint Anthony holy card:

Prayer to Saint Barbara

O Glorious St. Barbara,
you inspire me by your example
of courage and chastity.
Help me to have your gift of faith,
and obtain for me,
through your prayers,
the grace to live a holy life,
so that one day I may join you
in the Kingdom of Heaven.


St. Barbara, Pray for Us!



Prayer in Honour of Saint Barbara

Here is another, fairly generic prayer to Saint Barbara:

O God, Who didst adorn
Thy holy Virgin and Martyr Barbara
with extraordinary fortitude
in the confession of the Faith,
and didst console her
in the most atrocious torments;
grant us through her intercession
perseverance in the fulfillment of Thy law
and the grace of being fortified before our end
with the holy Sacraments, and of a happy death.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.



Invocation of St. Barbara

This prayer invokes Barbara's legendary aid against sudden death, without soecifically mentioning the particular forms of danger against which her aid is sought.

Intrepid Virgin and Martyr, St. Barbara,
through thy intercession
come to my aid in all needs of my soul.
Obtain for me the grace
to be preserved from a sudden and unprovided death;
assist me in my agony,
when my senses are benumbed
and I am in the throes of death.
Then, O powerful patroness of the dying,
come to my aid!
Repel from me all the assaults and temptations of the evil one,
and obtain for me the grace to receive before death
the holy Sacraments,
that I breathe forth my soul confirmed
in faith, hope, and charity,
and be worthy to enter eternal glory. Amen.

St. Barbara, at my last end
Obtain for me the Sacrament;
Assist one in that direst need
When I my God and Judge must meet:
That robed in sanctifying grace
My soul may stand before His face.

Other Faces of Saint Barbara

In The West African and African Diasporic religions of Lukumi and Santeria, she is identified with the male oriisha Chango (also spelled Shango and Xango) because he, as the deified fourth king of the Yorubas, is associated with thunder and lightning, as well as the colours red and white. In her role as Chango , Saint Barbara is thus named as one of the Seven African Powers of Cuban Santeria.

Related pages of interest:

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