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St. Barbara

St. Barbara by Br. Arturo Olivas, OFS

Artist Narrative:

Santa Barbara was a 3rd century convert to Christianity from Nicomedia during the persecutions of Maximinus. Barbara’s father, a pagan, imprisoned her in a tower for embracing the new religion. After resisting all efforts to abandon her faith Barbara’s father decapitated her with a sword. At the moment he cut off her head a bolt of lightning struck him dead.

In New Mexico Santa Barbara is invoked for protection against lightning strikes, tempests, and thunder. An ancient rhyming prayer declares, “Santa Barbara doncella, libera nos del rayo y la centella – Holy virgin Barbara, protect us from thunderbolts and the flash.”

Her feast day is December 4.

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Barbara was a beautiful maiden imprisoned in a high tower by her father Dioscorus for disobedience. While there, she was tutored by philosphers, orators and poets. From them she learned to think, and decided that polytheism was nonsense. With the help of Origen and Valentinian, she converted to Christianity.

Her father denounced her to the local authorities for her faith, and they ordered him to kill her. She escaped, but he caught her, drug her home by her hair, tortured her, and killed her. He was immediately struck by lightning, or according to some sources, fire from heaven.

Her imprisonment led to her association with towers, then the construction and maintenance of them, then to their military uses. The lightning that avenged her murder led to asking her protection against fire and lightning, and her patronage of firefighters, etc. Her association with things military and with death that falls from the sky led to her patronage of all things related to artillery, and her image graced powder magazines and arsenals for years. One of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.

While there were undoubtedly beautiful converts named Barbara, this saint is legend, and her cultus developed when pious fiction was mistaken for history.