St. Barbara, Virgin and Martyr, and The Tower Key XVI (c) Cheryl Lynne Bradley 2002
"The Tower has been spoken of as the chastisement of pride and the intellect overwhelmed in the attempt to penetrate the Mystery of God; but in neither case do these explanations account for the two persons who are the living sufferers. The one is the literal word made void and other its false interpretation."
from "Pictorial Key to the Tarot' by Arthur Edward Waite
Although there is little genuine historical information the story of St. Barbara is an interesting one. St. Barbara was the young daughter of a wealthy pagan merchant named Dioscorus. They probably lived in the second or third century A.D. Her father was extremely protective of his daughter and he built a tower, which he confined her to, in order to preserve her from the outside world. Her only company was a maidservant and the people who passed underneath the window of her tower. One day she overheard a monk praying and singing a hymn as he passed by and she was intrigued. She shared her interest with her maidservant who introduced her to the story of Christianity. Barbara couldn't learn enough and converted.
Her father had made plans for her to be wed and she had rejected the arranged marriage. Shortly after the rejection of her potential spouse, Barbara's father left on a business trip. Before leaving, he had ordered the construction of a bath house for her personal use near her tower. After he had departed on his journey, Barbara had three windows installed in the bathhouse, as a symbol of the Holy Trinity, instead of the two that had originally been planned. Upon her father's return from his trip he quesstioned her about the windows and she confessed her conversion to Christianty to him. Dioscorus was extremely displeased and treated her poorly. His attempts to change her mind were fruitless so he brought her before the prefect of the province, Martinianus. Barbara would not recant her beliefs so Martinianus ordered her to be tortured and condemned to die by beheading. Her father was her executioner. In punishment for this he was struck by a bolt of lightning on his way back to his home and his body was destroyed.
From about the seventh century, Barbara began to be venerated as a Saint. In the "Martyrologium Romanum parvum" (about 700AD), the oldest martyrology of the Roman Catholic Church in which her name appears, it says: "In Tuscia Barbarae virginis et martyris". Later additions to the martyrologies written by St. Jerome and Bede, say "Romae Barbarae virginis" or "apud Antiochiam passio S. Barbarae virg.". These statements are held to prove only that she was venerated more out of folklore and legend than giving us genuine evidence of her existence.
It is thought that her martyrdom occurred in Nicomedia or Heliopolis in Egypt during the reign of Maximinus (Maximianus). It is undertermined if the name refers to Maximinus Thrax (235-238AD) or Maximinus Daza of the Diocletian persecutions.
The legend that her father was struckdown by a bolt of lightning caused her to be regarded by commoners as the patron saint to call on in time of danger from thunder storms, explosions and fire. She was and still is considered to be the protector of artillerymen and miners. She was called upon to be an intercessor to assure that the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist were received at the hour of death.
In 1448, a man named Henry Kock was nearly burnt to death in a fire at Gorkum. In his hour of darkness, he called upon St. Barbara, a saint to whom he had always been devoted. This story, which did much to increase her veneration, tells us that she helped him to escape the burning house and kept him alive until he could receive the last rites.
In Greek and Roman calendars the feast of St. Barbara falls on December 4. St. Barbara is regularly depicted artistically and is usually represented standing in a tower with three windows holding the palm of a martyr in one hand. In other depictions she holds a chalice and sacramental wafer. In light of her veneration by the military it is not uncommon for a cannon to be depicted with her.
This page was created April 15, 2002.