St. Barbara is a 3rd century saint whose story is a mix of reality and legend.
She is the patron saint of armourers, artillerymen, architects, mathematicians, and miners. St. Barbara is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, venerated because their intercession is believed to be particularly effective against diseases. Barbara is often invoked against thunder, lightning, and fire, and all accidents arising from explosions of gunpowder.
We saw statues and little altars for St. Barbara in a German gemstone mine we visited!
Barbara, the daughter of a rich Pagan named Dioscorus, was carefully guarded by her father who kept her locked up in a tower in order to preserve her from the outside world.
Barbara secretly became a Christian and dedicated her life to knowing the true God and making Him known to others. She chose a life of consecrated virginity. She rejected all offers of marriage.
Dioscorus allowed for Barbara to leave her tower, hoping some freedom would change her attitude. Barbara used this opportunity to meet other Christians. They taught her about the Lord Jesus, the Holy Trinity and the Church. A priest from Alexandria, disguised as a merchant, baptized Barbara into Christ and His Church.
Her father had a private bath-house built for her. The original architectural plans were for two windows to be built, but, while her father was away, Barbara advised the workers to make a third window to symbolize the Trinity.
Barbara’s bathhouse became a place full of healing power and many miracles occurred there. St. Simeon Metaphrastes even compared it to the stream of Jordan.
After Dioscorus returned, Barbara informed him she had become a Christian and would never marry. Full of rage, her father grabbed his sword and went to strike her. Before he could do so, Barbara ran off.
Her father chased after her, but was abruptly stopped when a hill blocked his way. The hill opened and hid Barbara within a crevice. Dioscorus searched and searched for his daughter, but could not find her.
Dioscorus came across two shepherds and asked them if they had seen her. The first denied, but the second betrayed Barbara. Some legends indicate that he was turned to stone and his flock was turned into locusts.
Her father took her to the provincial prefect, who ordered her to be tortured and beheaded. Dioscorus himself performed the execution and, upon his return home, was struck by lightning and reduced to ashes.
She eventually met her end via martyrdom on December 4, 267 AD.
Her symbols are flowers and breads.
Celebrations around the world
To celebrate St. Barbara’s Day, known as “Eid il-Burbara,” Christians in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon prepare and share a dessert made from boiled wheat, rose water, cinnamon, anise and nuts. This aromatic sweet represents the wheat fields where St. Barbara hid from her father, who kept her locked in a tower because she had converted to Christianity in A.D. 235. Middle Eastern Christians believe that, before her death, St. Barbara escaped her tower prison, and freshly planted wheat fields miraculously rose up around her, concealing her path.
St. Barbara’s feast marks the beginning of the Christmas decorating season for Lebanese Christians. Lebanese families also plant wheat grains, lentils, chickpeas and other legumes with the idea that in three weeks, the sprouts will be plentiful, accenting the Nativity scene under the Christmas tree.
Some believers take cherry branches into their homes Dec. 4. If the “Barbara branch” blooms on Christmas, it is considered to bring good fortune. This custom recalls the prophesy in the Old Testament book of Isaiah: The Messiah will spring from the root of Jesse. Christians expectantly await Jesus Christ during Advent, and he will blossom or be born at Christmas.
From this tradition comes “Barbarazweig,” the German and Austrian custom of taking branches into the house Dec. 4, with hopes of a bloom on Christmas. In Central Europe, it is believed that the blooming branch signals a promise of marriage in the year ahead.
Families in the Provence region of France germinate wheat on beds of wet cotton in three separate saucers, keeping them moist throughout Advent. When the contents of the three saucers — which symbolize the three persons of the Trinity — are green, they are used to decorate the creche, usually placed under the Christmas tree.
Celebrating St. Barbara
Forced paperwhite bulbs are often displayed the first week of December. It’s hard to find cherry blossoms, so silk sprays can be displayed.
Sprout grains. Cook with grains or bake breads.
St. Barbara’s feast day is an awesome opportunity to break out some fireworks! As the patron of firework manufacturers, families can remember St. Barbara by having a fun with fireworks or firework-related entertainment like sparklers and noise makers.
We like to celebrate the rhythms of the year and slow down during the holiday season.