Saturday, December 4, 2010
Saints on Saturdays: Saint Barbara, Virgin and Martyr.
Happy Feast of Saint Barbara! I wasn't feeling my Crafty Saturdays since I rarely have much time to blog (or craft) in this season and I am also missing a vital element: my camera! So I will place knitting and rosary making posts among Mama Mondays and Willow House Wednesdays for now. Meanwhile, it occurred to me that I could use Saturdays to honor the Saints-- certainly a worthy endeavor, and one I know I will enjoy blogging about.
Today, Dec 4, is the feast of Saint Barbara. Being named after her and having lived in "Santa Barbara" many years, she holds a special place in my heart. I attended Saint Barbara's Parish in Santa Barbara for years, a beautiful, intricately designed Franciscan Mission that left a profound impression on me.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia: "Veneration of the saint was common from the seventh century. At about this date there were in existence legendary Acts of her martyrdom which were inserted in the collection of Symeon Metaphrastes and were used as well by the authors (Ado, Usuard, etc.) of the enlarged martyrologies composed during the ninth century in Western Europe. According to these narratives, which are essentially the same, Barbara was the daughter of a rich heathen named Dioscorus. She was carefully guarded by her father who kept her shut up in a tower in order to preserve her from the outside world. An offer of marriage which was received through him she rejected. Before going on a journey her father commanded that a bath-house be erected for her use near her dwelling, and during his absence Barbara had three windows put in it, as a symbol of the Holy Trinity, instead of the two originally intended. When her father returned she acknowledged herself to be a Christian; upon this she was ill-treated by him and dragged before the prefect of the province, Martinianus, who had her cruelly tortured and finally condemned her to death by beheading. The father himself carried out the death-sentence, but in punishment for this he was struck by lightning on the way home and his body consumed. Another Christian named Juliana suffered the death of a martyr along with Barbara. A pious man called Valentinus buried the bodies of the saints; at this grave the sick were healed and the pilgrims who came to pray received aid and consolation. The emperor in whose reign the martyrdom is placed is sometimes called Maximinus and sometimes Maximianus; owing to the purely legendary character of the accounts of the martyrdom, there is no good basis for the investigations made at an earlier date in order to ascertain whether Maximinus Thrax (235-238) or Maximinus Daza (of the Diocletian persecutions), is meant. The traditions vary as to the place of martyrdom, two different opinions being expressed: Symeon Metaphrastes and the Latin legend given by Mombritius makes Heliopolis in Egypt the site of the martyrdom, while other accounts, to which Baronius ascribes more weight, give Nicomedia. In the "Martyrologium Romanum parvum" (about 700), the oldest martyrology of the Latin Church in which her name occurs, it is said: "In Tuscia Barbarae virginis et martyris", a statement repeated by Ado and others, while later additions of the martyrologies of St. Jerome and Bede say "Romae Barbarae virginis" or "apud Antiochiam passio S. Barbarae virg.". These various statements prove, however, only the local adaptation of the veneration of the saintly martyr concerning whom there is no genuine historical tradition. It is certain that before the ninth century she was publicly venerated both in the East and in the West, and that she was very popular with the Christian populace. The legend that her father was struck by lightning caused her, probably, to be regarded by the common people as the patron saint in time of danger from thunder-storms and fire, and later by analogy, as the protector of artillerymen and miners. She was also called upon as intercessor to assure the receiving of the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist at the hour of death. An occurrence of the year 1448 did much to further the spread of the veneration of the saint. A man named Henry Kock was nearly burnt to death in a fire at Gorkum; he called on St. Barbara, to whom he had always shown great devotion. She aided him to escape from the burning house and kept him alive until he could receive the last sacraments. A similar circumstance is related in an addition to the "Legenda aurea". In the Greek and present Roman calendars the feast of St. Barbara falls on 4 December, while the martyrologies of the ninth century, with the exception of Rabanus Maurus, place it on 16 December. St. Barbara has often been depicted in art; she is represented standing in a tower with three windows, carrying the palm of a martyr in her hand; often also she holds a chalice and sacramental wafer; sometimes cannon are displayed near her."
Growing up, we always planted wheat in small plates and bowls on a moist paper towel or some cotton to place in windows around the house on her feast day. As it grew, we tied a red ribbon around it and used these plates to decorate our "creche," or manger scenes, a provencal tradition. My mother always made me a cheesecake, my favorite, to celebrate. One year she gave me a beautiful statue of Saint Barbara that made an impression on me. Friends have given me holy cards and icons that have stayed with me through the years, such as the one above. My own personal relationship with her has been interesting-- when I left the Church, I had a hard time with leaving her Parish over every other, something about the sacred traditions and the rhtythm of life made my new life seem... empty... in some ways, though I (finally) had the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.
When I returned to the Church, it was contemplating the tiny host in the picture on her Holy Card that prepared me to accept the doctrine of the Eucharist the next time I read John 6. Her holy card had fallen out of my brother's old missal. He had given it to me upon returning from a tough deployment to Afghanistan, telling me that it had gotten him through some tough stuff and that he wanted me to keep it, even though I was a protestant. I had kept it, feeling "guilty" for having a book with prayers addressed to Mary in my house, hidden behind some other books on a shelf for years. Then one day, when I was deep in prayer about some of the things that I found theologically troubling about my experiences as a protestant, I remembered the Missal and took it down. I flipped through the pages, thinking that I just COULDN'T be a Catholic. It was unbiblical, no matter how much I liked it, and slammed the book shut, wanting to put it back on the shelf. Her holy card fell out when I did that and I held it in my hand for a long while, flooded by memories of Saint Barbara's presence in my life.
The following day, when I opened the Bible, it fell on John 6 and it was as if I was reading the words for the very time! It was like a cloud lifted from my head and light shone down and I GOT the Eucharist, the way I GOT everything else, and all of a sudden, I believed! And I would have RUN to my nearest Catholic Church to receive my Eucharistic Lord, literally run, if I hadn't had young ones toddling about underfoot.
After that, I knew I had to be a Catholic. To me, it was clear: there was not a more biblical choice.
Today, I get to take my oldest to see "Tangled," which ought to help her grasp the concept of being trapped in a tower, like Saint Barbara. Then I hope to get her a slice of cheesecake, and share in the joy of having such a wonderful, faithful friend in heaven.
Saint Barbara, pray for us.