Thursday, December 4, 2008

St. Barbara

Today is St. Barbara's Day, although she was removed from the official calender of Saints in 1969. Nevertheless, she remains a powerful presence particularly within the US Army, the Cuban-American community & as the inspiration for the beautiful city of Santa Barbara, California.

Legend has it that in the 3rd Century her father, Dioscorus, became utterly enraged that his stunningly attractive daughter had converted to Christianity & forsaken his entreaties to be married off in a politically convenient manner.

He, himself, denounced her to the relevant authorities who ordered that she be shamed publicly, tortured mercilessly & beheaded! Dioscorus carried out the dirty deed with his own hands.

According to this Army Fort Sill, Oklahoma website the following transpired:

Dioscorus himself carried out the death sentence. On his way home he was struck by lightening and his body consumed.

Saint Barbara lived and died about the year 300 A.D. She was venerated as early as the seventh century. The legend of the lightning bolt which struck down her persecutor caused her to be regarded as the patron saint in time of danger from thunderstorms, fires and sudden death.

When gunpowder made its appearance in the Western world, Saint Barbara was invoked for aid against accidents resulting from explosions--since some of the earlier artillery pieces often blew up instead of firing their projectile, Saint Barbara became the patroness of the artillerymen.

Saint Barbara is usually represented standing by a tower with three windows, carrying the palm of a martyr in her hand. Often, too, she holds a chalice and a sacramental wafer and sometimes cannon are displayed near her. The feast of Saint Barbara falls on December 4th and is traditionally recognized by a formal Dining-In or military dinner, often involving the presentation of the Order of Saint Barbara.

The Order of Saint Barbara is an honorary military society of the United States Field Artillery. Both U.S. Marine and Army field artillery along with their military and civilian supporters are eligible for membership. The order is managed by the U.S. Field Artillery Association and two levels of recognition exist. The most distinguished level is the Ancient Order of Saint Barbara and those who are selected for this honor have achieved long-term, exceptional service to the field artillery surpassing even their brethren in the Honorable Order of Saint Barbara. The order links field artillerymen of the past and present in a brotherhood of professionalism, selfless service and sacrifice symbolized by Saint Barbara.

Jonathan Young
extols her timeless virtues:

On any holy card of Saint Barbara, the picture is a woman with a tower. The story can be read as an allegory for life's journey. There are times when we may feel as if we are locked away in a tower. This is when we are somehow removed from what would be most fulfilling. We may have hidden ourselves away out of a fear of getting caught up in a passionate cause.

There are other ways that we might be like Saint Barbara. It can take considerable initiative simply to find our deepest beliefs. It takes additional commitment to develop effective ways to express those values. Both parts of such a project require enormous tenacity.

Life serves up plenty of opposition to maintaining an inner life. Holding onto a vision calls for powerful resolve. Still, if we are dedicated, the vitality of the soul somehow manages to endure through many dangers. This survival sometimes involves seemingly miraculous assistance. At the end of this journey, like Saint Barbara, we will die. If, like her, we have been strong and loyal to what we find to be true and beautiful, it will have been a good life.

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