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Catholic Activity: St. Barbara, Saint of Advent


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Mrs. Newland explains the story of St. Barbara, "she is precisely the saint we want supporting us in our brave resolves at the start of Advent."


The feast of St. Barbara on December 4 may seem to have no apparent connection with Advent other than the date; but it does connect, as you will see. She is especially important to our children, and they consider it de rigueur to salute her on her feast day since she is the patroness of those who call for protection against lightning and electrical storms. Frequently during the summer we have brief counsels such as, "Now stop fussing and pray to St. Barbara. She will keep us all safe and sound until the storm is over."

She was the daughter of a pagan, Dioscorus, who (according to the somewhat questionable Acts of St. Barbara) placed her in a high and beautiful tower surrounded by marvelous gardens, and sent philosophers, poets., and scholars to teach her all things. Convinced that polytheism was nonsense, she consulted Origen, one of the most brilliant and controversial of early Christian apologists; he sent her his disciple Valentinium, who forthwith instructed and baptized her. She thereupon threw all the statues of pagan gods and goddesses out a window of her tower, traced the Sign of the Cross everywhere on the walls, and had a third slit of a window cut in honor of the Holy Trinity.

This upset her father no end. He had her dragged out of the tower, but she somehow escaped to the mountains as he was about to slay her. He pursued her and dragged her back by the hair of her head (which is why she is sometimes pictured being dragged about by the hair) and handed her over to Marcian, a master at the art of torturing Christians. She was beaten with rods, torn with iron hooks, and suffered other horrible torments. To finish her off with the nicest of niceties, her father asked for the privilege of striking the final blow. He dragged her out of town and cut off her head with an axe. The best part of the story is that as she was being carried to Heaven by the angels, her father is supposed to have been struck dead by lightning and "hurried before the judgment seat of God." Hence her concern that we be preserved from lightning and from a sudden and unprovided death. She is also patroness of firemen, mathematicians, firework makers, artillery men, architects, smelters, saltpeter workers, brewers, armorers, hatters, tilers, masons, miners, and carpenters, and she is invoked against final impenitence.

With this to her credit she is precisely the saint we want supporting us in our brave resolves at the start of Advent. So on December 4 we sing at the dinner table: "Happy feast day, St. Barbara," and tell her story. At night prayers we invoke her help in the words of the Collect of her Mass:

O God, who among the marvels of Thy power has given the victory of martyrdom even to the weaker sex, grant in Thy mercy that we who keep the birthday of blessed Barbara, Thy virgin and martyr, may, by her example, draw nearer to Thee. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God world without end. Amen.

Activity Source: Year and Our Children, The by Mary Reed Newland, P.J. Kenedy & Sons, New York, 1956

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