Wednesday, December 04, 2013

St. Barbara, Virgin and Martyr

Painting of St. Barbara, by Hans Holbein the Younger, found at WikiPaintings

(The following is excerpted from the 4 December entry in Volume I of the 1983 Marian House edition of the English translation of Dom Prosper Guéranger's 'The Liturgical Year' by the Benedictines of Stanbrook.)

Although, in the Roman liturgy, St. Barbara is merely commemorated in the Office of St. Peter Chrysologus, yet the Church has approved an entire Office for the use of those Churches which honour the memory of this illustrious virgin in a special manner. The legend which follows, although of considerable weight, has not, consequently, the authority of those which are promulgated for the use of the whole Church, in the Roman breviary. Let us not, on this account, be less fervent in honouring this glorious marytr, so celebrated in the east, and whose feast has been for so many ages admitted, with more or less solemnity, into the Roman Church. The acts of her martyrdom, though not of the highest antiquity, contain nothing in them but what redounds to the glory of God and the honour of the saint....Let us admire the constancy wherewith this virgin waited for her Lord, who came at the appointed hour, and was for her, as the Scripture speaks, a Spouse of blood, because He put the strength of her love of Him to the severest of all tests.

Barbara, a virgin of Nicomedia, the daughter of Dioscorus, a nobleman but a superstitious pagan, came readily, by the assistance of divine grace, from the contemplation of the visible things of creating to the knowledge of the invisible. Wherefore, she devoted herself to God alone and to the things of God. Her father, desirous to preserve her from all danger of insult, to which he feared her great beauty might expose her, shut her up in a tower. There the pious virgin passed her days in meditation and prayer, studying to please God alone, whom she had chosen as her Spouse. She courageously rejected several offers of marriage, which were made to her, through her father, by rich nobles. But her father hoped that, by separating himself by a long absence from his child, her intentions would easily change. He first ordered that a bath should bed built for her in the tower, so that she might want for nothing; and then he set out on a journey into distant countries.

During her father's absence, Barbara ordered that to the two windows already in the tower a third should be added, in honour of the blessed Trinity; and that on the edge of the bath the sign of the most holy cross should be drawn. When Dioscorus returned home, and saw those changes, and was told their meaning, he became so incensed against his daughter, that he went in search of her with a naked sword in his hand, and, but for the protection of God, he would have cruelly murdered her. Barbara had taken to flight: an immense rock opened before her, and she found a path by she reached the top of a mountain, and there she hid herself in a cave. Not long after, however, she was discovered by her unnatural father, who savagely kicked and struck her, and dragging her by the hair over the sharp rocks, and rugged ways, he handed her over the governor Marcian, that he might punish her. He, therefore, having used every means to shake her constancy, and finding that all was in vain, gave orders for her to be stripped and scourged with thongs, to have her wounds scraped with potsherds, and then to be dragged to prison. There Christ, surrounded by an immense light, appearing to her, strengthened her in a divine manner for the sufferings she was yet to endure. A matron, named Juliana, who witnessed this, was converted to the faith, and became her companion in martyrdom.

At length Barbara had her body torn with iron hooks, her sides burnt with torches, and her head bruised with mallets. During these torments she consoled her companion, and exhorted her to fight manfully to the last. Both of them had their breasts cut off, were dragged naked through the streets, and beheaded. The head of Barbara was cut off by her own father, who in his excessive wickedness had hardened his heart thus far. But his ferocious cruelty was not long left unpunished, for instantly, and on the very spot, he was struck dead by lightning. The emperor Justinus had the body of this most holy virgin translated from Nicomedia to Constantinople. It was afterwards obtained by the Venetians from the emperors Constantine and Basil; and having been translated from Constantinople to Venice, was deposited with great solemnity in the basilica of St. Mark. Lastly, at the earnest request of the bishop of Torcello and his sister, who was abbess, it was translated in the year of grace 1009, to the nuns' church of St. John the Evangelist, in the diocese of Torcello; where it was placed in a worthy sepulchre, and from that time has never ceased to be object of the most fervent veneration.
Such is the account of the life and martyrdom of the courageous virgin of Nicomedia. She is invoked in the Church against lightning, on account of the punishment by divine justice on her execrable father. The same incident of the saint's history has suggested several Catholic customs: thus her name is sometimes given to the hold of men-of-war where the ammunition is stowed; she is the patroness of artillery men, miners, etc.; and she is invoked by the faithful against the danger of a sudden death....

Pray...O glorious martyr, that the faith in the blessed Trinity may be ever increasing in this world. May our enemy, Satan, be confounded by every tongue confessing the threefold light, and the triumphant cross which sanctifies the waters of Baptism. Remember, O blessed Barbara, thou bride of Jesus, that He has put in thy gentle hands the power not of hurling, but of staying and averting the thunderbolt. Protect our ships against the fires of heaven and of war. Shield by thy protection the arsenals where are placed the defences of our country. Hear the prayers of them that invoke thee, whether in the fierceness of the storm, or in the dark depths of the earth; and save us all from the awful chastisement of a sudden death.


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