Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Saint Barbara

Walk by any shop that sells herbs and potions for those who engage in various types of "folk religion," and you will find her, a statue of a woman clutching a chalice in her right hand, the Sacred Host emerging therefrom, and a sword in her left hand. She shares these window displays with images of the Blessed Mother, Saint Michael, and no less than Santo Niño.

The cult of devotion to Saint Barbara was suppressed by the Church in the 1969 reform of the Roman calendar, as there was insufficient evidence of her ever having existed. Be that as it may, the traditional Roman calendar remembers her on this, her feast day.

She is said to have lived in the third century, a beautiful maiden locked in a tower by her father for disobeying him. Having been secretly tutored in Christianity, she later rejected the polytheism of her family. He reported his own daughter to authorities, who ordered him to kill her. As he cut off her head, he was struck by lightening.

Early accounts of her existence are NON-existent, but her cult dates to the seventh century. In the Caribbean, she is a popular source of devotion among practitioners of Santería, a convergence of the African Yoruba religion and local pseudo-Christian devotionalism. In the city of Santiago de Cuba, Santa Bárbara is honored with a great procession, as her image is carried on a platform. People dress in the colors of red and white which are associated with her, as they gather along the route on their stoops and balconies, throwing perfumed water on the statue as it goes by, and drinking a toast with white wine.

She remains to this day, the patron of towers and artillerymen, and is invoked for instances of fever, and for protection against sudden death. It is the latter that originated from her being one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, a group of early saints who were invoked against the Black Plague of the mid-14th century. (BONUS QUESTION: One of the other Helpers was said to have appeared frequently to Joan of Arc. Do you know which one it was?)

She may be off the books, but Saint Barbara still gets around.

1 comment:

Banshee said...

And those little Greek honey cake balls are for St. Barbara's Day, because of the cannonball thing.