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Catholic Activity: Nameday Ideas for the Feast of St. Barbara, Virgin and Martyr

Feast day traditionally December 4, although removed from the General Roman Calendar due to Historical difficulties. Includes dessert ideas, decorations and prayers.


"In the time that Maximus reigned there was a rich man Diascorus who had a young daughter named Barbara, for whom he made a strong two-windowed tower in which he did keep and close her so that no man should see her because of her great beauty." So begins in Caxton's version of the Golden Legend the story of a virgin-martyr, one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, whose name is the ninth most popular for girls today. Though Butler's Lives of the Saints says the legend is in all probability spurious, the life of the saint is continued. "Barbara's father made a trip and during his absence she had a third window made in the tower. To his questioning later she announced, 'Three windows be taken clearly for the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, three Persons and one God, whom we ought to believe and worship.' Barbara was imprisoned, scourged and tortured, but stood firm in her belief. Her father, carrying out her death sentence, beheaded her himself, and in turn, legend says, was consumed by a fire from heaven."

Father: Maidens follow in her retinue into the King's presence, all rejoicing.

All: In all majesty, in all beauty make ready; ride on in triumph and take your crown.

Father: Let us pray. O God, who among other marvels of Your power has given even to weak women the triumph of martyrdom, grant us this grace, that we who are celebrating the birthday of the virgin-martyr Barbara may be led nearer to You by her example. Through Christ, our Lord.

All: Amen. Christ conquers, Christ reigns!

In art the distinctive emblems of St. Barbara are her tower, and the chalice and host, which may be used with a sword on her nameday shield or on the family bulletin board or home altar. She is invoked against fire and lightning because of the fate that overtook her father. Barbara's prayer before her execution accounts for the belief that she is a protectress of those in danger of dying without the sacraments.

Desserts and decorations. On this nameday a crown cake signifies the crown of martyrdom and the crown of glory Barbara received in heaven. For a busy mother a gold-paper crown on a cake or a gumdrop crown is appropriate. Another "quickie" is a wreath of roses and lilies made of icing which can be put atop a cake. A molded strawberry dessert is another suggestion for a martyr's feast.

A nameday child in the vicinity of Santa Barbara, California, will enjoy a visit to the Mission of Santa Barbara, a great stone church with fine cloisters, fragrant with flowers, with a tinkling fountain in the plaza. This place of pilgrimage is the only one in the chain of Franciscan missions which has always been in their hands.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art offers a reproduction of Madonna and Child in the Enclosed Garden showing Barbara with her tower.

More expensive are the fifteenth-century Italian reproduction of St. Barbara, a detail from an altar piece in the church of St. Dominic, Siena, by Matteo di Giovanni, and the sixteenth-century reproduction of St. Barbara by Palma Il Vecchio. Virgin and Child with St. Barbara and Elizabeth, a color print for home framing, can be procured from the Frick Collection.

Some ideas for religious items: try to find nameday medals, statues to top a cake. Spanish-speaking sections of large cities have a great devotion to St. Barbara and import statues of her from Spain.

Barbara by M. K. Richardson is a book that would make a splendid nameday gift for a small namesake of the virgin-martyr.

[Editor's Note: Besides Catholic Culture's list of symbols, see this website for more details on symbols of St. Barbara.

Also, for more information, St. Barbara was one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers .]

Activity Source: My Nameday — Come for Dessert by Helen McLoughlin, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 1962

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