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Catholic Culture Overview

Catholic Activity: Story of St. Barbara for Children by Joan Windham



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St. Barbara is a much-loved saint, whose feast was celebrated universally on December 4. But her story was based on Legend (from the 3rd century A.D.) which has presented many historical difficulties. Therefore the Church removed her feast from the General Roman Calendar. She is still honored on local calendars and patronages, such as artillerymen and firemen. The following story is based on the Acts of St. Barbara written for children by Joan Windham.


Once upon a time there was a Girl called Barbara and she had a Very Bigoted Father. (Bigoted means having a very narrow mind so that you can only see straight in front of you and nowhere else.) This Father was called Dioscurus, which is a Rather Funny name.

Barbara hadn't any brothers or sisters and she was really very pretty and was the Apple of Dioscurus' Eye. So Dioscurus, who was very proud of having such a pretty daughter, was simply terrified in case she got married and so he would lose her.

So he thought this Thought:

"If I build a very Tall Tower with rooms at the top and put Barbara in and then fill up the front door with a brick wall, she can never get out and no one can ever Get In to marry her." So he did that. And Barbara lived in her Tall Tower and let down a basket by a string for her food and drink and clean clothes and library books and things, and she was quite happy.

Now one thing that Dioscurus was very Bigoted about was Christians. He just couldn't Abide them and he was rather glad that Barbara was up so safe in her Tall Tower, because she couldn't get into mischief with Christians.

But one day, when Barbara had pulled up her new library books, she found that one of them was all about Christians, and it was written by a man called Origen. Barbara thought:

"I do believe Christians must be Quite Nice. Daddy seems to have got hold of the wrong end of the stick (because he is so Bigoted)."

So she wrote a letter to Origen-who-had-written-the-Book, and this is what she wrote:

DEAR ORIGEN, My Father (who is Very Bigoted), has put me in a very Tall Tower because of not Getting Married and because of not being a Christian. But I read your book from the Library, and I think Christians are quite nice, so will you please write and teach me about them and Baptise me by Post? With love from BARBARA.

When Origen got this letter he sent for a friend of his who was a Priest.

"Look at this letter I have just got," he said, "it is from a Girl called Barbara and she wants to learn her Catechism and be Baptised by Post! I can't go to her myself because I am busy, but you could, couldn't you?"

"Yes," said the Priest. "I'm rather slack just now."

"Well you'd better not go and say you're a Christian, because of Dioscurus being so bigoted. You'd better pretend to be someone else. The question is who?"

"Well, could I be a Doctor ?" asked the Priest.

"That's quite a good idea, because Priests are Doctors of Souls," said Origen, "I'll write and tell her to pretend to feel ill (because, really, her soul isn't very well), and then you turn up and say that you are an Eminent Physician."

So Origen wrote to Barbara and when she got the Letter she rang the Big Clanging Bell on top of the Tall Tower that she rang when she wanted anything.

"What is it, Barbara?" shouted Diocurus who had been weeding quite nearby.

"I don't feel very well," said Barbara in a Rather Sad Voice, "what shall I do?"

"I don't know, 'pon my soul I don't," said Dioscurus, "I never thought of that when I Bricked you In. Let me think."

While he was thinking, he saw a man walking slowly along.

"Who are you?" he said, making a Bigoted face. "Trespassers will be Prosecuted."

"I know they will," said the man, "but I am only an Eminent Physician going for a walk."

"A Doctor?" said Dioscurus, changing his Bigoted face into a Pleased one. "That's just what I want. Come here and help me to knock a hole in the wall."

So the man (who, of course, was Origen's friend the Priest) helped Dioscurus make a hole in the wall.

"Why are we doing this ?" he asked, rather out of breath with banging the bricks with his walking stick.

"Because Barbara isn't feeling very well," said Dioscurus, "and you must go and see her. You'd better stay two or three days so as to be sure she's quite well before you go. And I'll brick the Hole up fairly loosely until you're ready to come down again, because there isn't a front door."

"All right," said Origen's friend, and he went up the Long Curly Stairs, round and round and round. At last he got to the top!

"Let me have a chair!" he said to Barbara, "I'm too Giddy to think!"

While he was recovering, Dioscurus filled up the Hole in the wall.

"Well," said Barbara, "will you teach me how to be a Christian very Quickly, because we have only got two or three days."

So the Priest Friend of Origen taught Barbara her Catechism and then Baptised her, and they laughed about her thinking that she could be Baptised by Post!

After three days Dioscurus shouted up to one of Barbara's two windows:

"Hullo, Barbara, are you Better now?"

"Miles better, thank you," said Barbara.

"Well, I'll undo the Wall and let the Eminent Physician out," said Dioscurus, "or his family will think he is lost."

So Barbara said Goodbye and Thankyou to Origen's friend and he went away, and Dioscurus left the wall open for a few days in case Barbara felt ill again. But she didn't.

One day, just when Dioscurus was thinking that he must start the bricking up, Barbara rang the Big Clanging Bell.

"Please can I have three windows instead of two?" she asked.

"What on Earth for?" said Dioscurus.

"Well, because of the Three Powers in my Soul," said Barbara.

"What are you talking about?" said Dioscurus in a rather Bigoted voice.

"You know," said Barbara, "my Memory and my Understanding and my Will, like the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost."

"WHAT!!!" roared Dioscurus, and he Drew his Sword and rushed up the Long Curly Stairs, round and round and round, but, when he got to the top he was so Giddy that he had to Recover for a minute and by that time Barbara's Guardian Angel had taken her and hidden her in a Thick Wood.

And it happened that a Shepherd just caught a glimpse of her one day and he told Dioscurus, who raced to the wood roaring at the top of his voice, he was so very Bigoted about Christians. He found Barbara and dragged her home by the hair, and the road was very hard and bumpy.

"So you are a Christian, are you?" he said, stamping about, "Well, either you stop it, or I'll kill you with my Own Hand."

"I won't stop it at all," said Barbara, tidying her Hair, "If you kill me I'll be a Martyr, and you'll be a Murderer, and that would be a Terrible Thing for you. If you don't kill me I'll be a Christian and you'll have to be Less Bigoted, so you can choose."

"You just come with me, Miss," said Dioscurus, his face red with rage, and he took Barbara to the top of a very high mountain (I can't think why), and Chopped off her Head!

So Barbara was a Martyr and went to Heaven, and she loved being there with God and everyone instead of being in the Tall Tower all by herself. But as Dioscurus was going down the very high mountain again, after having Martyred Barbara, there was a stupendous Thunder-and-Lightning storm and the mountain fell over and squashed him.

St Barbara's Special Day is on December 4th, and lots of People's Birthdays are on that day, and there is a Town in America [Santa Barbara] called after her.

Activity Source: More Six O'Clock Saints by Joan Windham, Sheed & Ward, 1945