Catholicism, Catholic, Traditional Catholicism, Catholic Church

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Feast of
St. Barbara

Barbara -- one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers -- was the beautiful daughter of a rich and powerful pagan named Dioscuros. She grew up in Nikomedia (in modernTurkey). To keep her a virgin, her father locked her in a tower when he was away, a tower with only two windows. Upon his return from one journey, he found three windows in the tower instead of two. When he asked Barbara about this, she confessed that she'd become a Christian after being baptized by a priest disguised as a physician, and that she'd asked that a third window be made as a symbol of the Holy Trinity.

She was then denounced by her father, who was ordered by the local authorities to put her to death. She escaped from her tower, but her father caught and killed her. When he dealt the death blow, he was immediately struck by lightning.

Before St Barbara was killed, she prayed,

Lord Jesus Christ, Whom all things obey, Whose will nothing resisteth: grant me this petition, that if anyone shall remember my name and honor the day of my passion, Thou remember not his sins on the day of judgment, and be merciful to those who love the memory of me, and do Thou set in peace the end of the life of those that love me.

A voice from heaven replied,

Come, my dearest, rest in the chambers of My Father; and concerning that which thou hast asked, it is given to thee.

St. Barbara is depicted in art holding a small tower or standing near a tower or near a canon, and holding a chalice and/or the palm of martyrdom. She is the patroness of artillerymen, fireworks manufacturers, firemen, stone masons, against sudden death, against fires, and against storms (especially lightning storms). She is usually depicted in art standing next to or holding the tower in which she was imprisoned, with a chalice, the palm of martyrdom, a feather, and/or a cannon.


Some may prepare for her feast by praying a Novena to St. Barbara starting on November 25 and ending on December 3, the eve of her feast. For her feast itself, this prayer is traditional:

O God, Who didst choose St. Barbara to bring consolation to the living and the dying; grant that through her intercession we may live always in thy divine love, and place all our hopes in the merits of the most sorrowful Passion of thy Son; so that a sinners death may never overtake us, but that, armed with the Sacraments of Penance, the Holy Eucharist, and Extreme Unction, we maybe able to pass without fear to everlasting glory. We implore this of Thee through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

As to customs, the blossoming cherry branches comes to mind first: during St. Barbara's time in the tower, she kept a branch from a cherry tree which she watered with water from her cup. On the day of she was killed, the cherry branch she'd kept blossomed. From this comes "Barbarazweig," the custom of bringing branches into the house on December 4 to hopefully bloom on Christmas (some reserve the custom for the unmarried).

Of course, the branches might not bloom at all, but if the temperature outside has been around 32 to 40 degrees for six weeks, they most likely will. Apple, chestnut, pear, peach, forsythia, plum, lilac and jasmine branches will work, also, but cherry is the tradition.

Cut stems today (the milder the weather, the better), looking for thinner branches with swollen buds. Mash the cut ends of the branches to open them up, and put them in a vase of cool, not icy, water with a little sugar in it for several hours. Leave branches for a few days in a cool place. As soon as the buds appear to swell, bring them into a warm room (not too close to the source of heat). Spritz them from time to time with lukewarm water, and when the blooms appear, place the branches on a window sill to give them lots of light and keep them in cooler air so that the blooms will stay fresh longer. Change water every day. Once they are in full bloom, re-cut the stems and put them in water with a little sugar, a few drops of bleach, a penny and a dissolved aspirin.

If the branches bloom exactly on 25 December, it is a sign of "good luck," and the person whose branches produces the most blossoms is said to be "Mary's favorite." Maria von Trapp of the Trapp Family Singers (think "Sound of Music") wrote in "Around the Year with the Trapp Family" (Pantheon Books, 1955) that the Austrian legend is that if a person's branch blossoms on Christmas Day, he or she will be married in the following year :

There is a group of fourteen saints known as the "Fourteen Auxiliary Saints."  [Ed. also called the "Holy Helpers"] In Austria they are sometimes pictured together in an old chapel, or over a side altar of a church; each one has an attribute by which he may be recognized--St. George will be shown with a dragon, or St. Blaise with two candles crossed. One of these Auxiliary Saints is St. Barbara, whose feast is celebrated on December 4th. She can be recognized by her tower (in which she was kept prisoner) and the ciborium surmounted by the Sacred Host. St. Barbara is invoked against lightning and sudden death. She is the patron saint of miners and artillery men and she is also invoked by young unmarried girls to pick the right husband for them.

On the fourth of December, unmarried members of the household are supposed to go out into the orchard and cut twigs from the cherry trees and put them into water. There is an old belief that whoever's cherry twig blossoms on Christmas Day can expect to get married in the following year. As most of us are always on tour at this time of the year, someone at home will be commissioned to "cut the cherry twigs." These will be put in a vase in a dark corner, each one with a name tag, and on Christmas Day they will be eagerly examined; and even if they are good for nothing else, they provide a nice table decoration for the Christmas dinner.

These lovely cherry blossoms are also used to decorate the creche. The French (Provencale) variation of this custom requires the family to germinate wheat on beds of wet cotton in three separate saucers, keeping them moist throughout Advent. When the contents of the three saucers -- which symbolize the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity -- are nice and green, they are used to adorn the creche at Christmas. The French saying is "Quand le blé va bien, tout va bien" (“Quand lou blad ven ben, tout va ben” in the dialect of Provence), or "When the wheat goes well, everything goes well."

As to foods, Barbarakuchen -- a lemon quick-bread -- is eaten in Germany on St. Barbara's Day:


zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon
3/4 cup (1 ½ sticks) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 cup flour
1 1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup powdered sugar

Cream the butter with the sugar. Beat in the eggs. Stir in the zest. In another bowl, mix the flour, cornstarch and baking powder. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture to make a stiff batter. Spread into a greased loaf pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 350o F for 45-55 minutes, testing for doneness with a toothpick. Remove from the oven and let cool. Mix together the powdered sugar and lemon juice to make a glaze, adding a tablespoon or two of water if you need to get a good consistency. Pour over the top of the cake and let it dry.

Note: the Feast of St. Barbara is not celebrated liturgically in the 1962 Calendar, but you will see it celebrated liturgically if your priest uses an older Missal. Nonetheless, 4 December is still her "Feast Day" which may be celebrated informally.


From Dom Prosper Gueranger's

The Ligurgical Year

Although in the Roman Liturgy St. Barbara is merely commemorated in the Office of St. Peter Chrysologus; yet the Church has approved an entire Office for the use of those Churches which honor the memory of this illustrious Virgin in a special manner. The Legend which follows, although of considerable weight, has not, consequently, the authority of those which are promulgated for the use of the whole Church in the Roman Breviary. Let us not, on this account, be the less fervent in honoring this glorious Martyr, so celebrated in the East, and whose feast has been for so many ages admitted, with more or less solemnity, into the Roman Church. The Acts of her martyrdom, though not of the highest antiquity, contain nothing in them but what redounds to the glory of God and the honor of the Saint. We have already shown the liturgical importance which attaches to St. Barbara in the season of Advent. Let us admire the constancy wherewith this Virgin waited for her Lord, who came at the appointed hour, and was for her, as the Scripture speaks, a Spouse of blood, because He put the strength of her love of Him to the severest of all tests.

Barbara, a Virgin of Nicomedia, the daughter of Dioscorus, a nobleman, but a superstitious pagan, came readily, by the assistance of divine grace, from the contemplation of the visible things of creation to the knowledge of the invisible. Wherefore, she devoted herself to God alone and to the things of God. Her father, desirous to preserve her from all danger of insult, to which he feared her great beauty might expose her, shut her up in a tower. There the pious virgin passed her days in meditation and prayer, studying to please God alone, Whom she had chosen as her Spouse. She courageously rejected several offers of marriage, which were made to her, through her father, by rich nobles. But her father hoped, that by separating himself by a long absence from his child, her intentions would easily change. He first ordered that a bath should be built for her in the tower, so that she might want for nothing; and then he set out on a journey into distant countries.

During her father’s absence, Barbara ordered that to the two windows already in the tower a third should be added, in honor of the blessed Trinity; and that on the edge of the bath the sign of the most holy Cross should be drawn. When Dioscorus returned home, and saw these changes, and was told their meaning, he became so incensed against his daughter, that he went in search of her with a naked sword in his hand, and, but for the protection of God, he would cruelly have murdered her. Barbara had taken to flight: an immense rock opened before her, and she found a path by which she reached the top of a mountain, and there she hid herself in a cave. Not long after, however, she was discovered by her unnatural father, who savagely kicked and struck her, and dragging her by the hair over the sharp rocks and rugged ways, he handed her over to the governor Marcian, that he might punish her. He, therefore, having used every means to shake her constancy, and finding that all was in vain, gave order that she should be stripped and scourged with thongs, the wounds to be then scraped with potsherd, and so dragged to prison. There Christ, surrounded by an immense light, appearing to her, strengthened her in a divine manner for the sufferings she was yet to endure. A Matron, named Juliana, who witnessed this, was converted to the faith, and became her companion in the palm of martyrdom.

At length Barbara had her body torn with iron hooks, her sides burnt with torches, and her head bruised with mallets. During these tortures she consoled her companion, and exhorted her to fight manfully to the last. Both of them had their breasts cut off, were dragged naked through the streets, and beheaded. The head of Barbara was cut off by her own father, who in his excessive wickedness had hardened his heart thus far. But his ferocious cruelty was not long left unpunished, for instantly, and on the very spot, he was struck dead by lightning. The Emperor Justinus had the body of this most holy virgin translated from Nicomedia to Constantinople. It was afterwards obtained by the Venetians from the Emperors Constantine and Basil; and having been translated from Constantinople to Venice, was deposited with great solemnity in the Basilica of St. Mark. Lastly, at the earnest request of the Bishop of Torcello and his sister, who was abbess, it was translated in the year of grace 1009, to the Nuns’ Church of St. John the Evangelist, in the diocese of Torcello; where it was placed in a worthy sepulcher, and from that time has never ceased to be the object of most fervent veneration.

Such is the account of the life and martyrdom of the courageous Virgin of Nicomedia. She is invoked in the Church against lightning, on account of the punishment inflicted by divine justice on her execrable father. This same incident of the Saint’s history has suggested several Catholic customs: thus, her name is sometimes given to the holy of men-of-war where the ammunition of stowed; she is the Patroness of Artillery-men, Miners, &c; and she is invoked by the faithful against the danger of a sudden death.

Of the Liturgical pieces, used in our Western Churches, in honor of St. Barbara, we will content ourselves with the following beautiful Antiphon, composed in the days of chivalry.


O immeasurable mercy of divine goodness, which did enlighten Barbara with the brightness of the true light, making her worthy, by her contempt for what was dazzling in earthly grandeur, to be admitted to a union with God! As the lily among thorns, as light in darkness, so shone Barbara. Alleluia.

The Greek Church is profuse in its praises of St. Barbara. We will take from the Menĉa a few out of the many Strophes which are snug in honor of the holy Martyr.

Hymn of the Greek Church

When welcome death came before thee, O venerable Martyr Barbara! joyously and nimbly didst thou run thy course, and being immolated by the wicked hands of an impious parent, thou wast offered a victim to God. Now, therefore, art thou in the choir of the truly wise Virgins, and contemplatest the beauty of thy Spouse.

This lamb of Thine, O Jesus, cries to Thee with a loud voice: Thee, O my Spouse, do I desire, Thee do I seek by my combat; I am immolated and buried in Thy baptism; I suffer for Thee, that I may reign with Thee; I die for Thee, that I may live in Thee; receive me, therefore, as an unreserved sacrifice lovingly sacrificed to Thee. Save our souls, O merciful Jesus, by her prayers.

Glorious Barbara! most sacred rose grown out of a thorny stem, sweetly perfuming the Church, and ruddy by the blood of thy battle! we this day most fervently proclaim thee blessed.

Neither the sweetness of luxury, nor the flower of beauty, nor riches, nor the pleasures of youth, could rob thee of thy energy, O glorious Barbara, most fair Virgin, espoused to Christ.

All stood in amazement at witnessing thy combat; for thou didst endure the tortures, and chains, and cruelties, of thy persecutors, O Barbara, of wide-world fame! Therefore, did God give thee the crown thou didst covet; thou didst run thy course with courage, and He healed thee.

Full of love for Jesus thy Spouse, thy bright lamp was well trimmed, and thy virtues shed forth their splendor, O Virgin, worthy of praise! Therefore didst thou enter in with Christ to the marriage-feast, and He wreathed thee with the crown of thy combat. We celebrate thy memory, O Barbara! Deliver us from danger.

By those three apertures, which thou wouldst have to thy bath, thou didst symbolize, O Barbara, the mystery of Baptism, which, by the light of the Trinity, imparts to our souls a cleansing that illuminates.

Fleeing the terrible violence of her father, a rock immediately opened a reception of safety to Barbara, as happened heretofore to the illustrious Promartyr of her sex, Thecla, for whom Christ worked a like miracle.

O Martyr Barbara! thou was sacrificed with a sword, by thy father, like in this to Abraham; but his devotedness was to the devil.

Jesus appeared to thee, O Barbara, in thy prison: He was surrounded by light inaccessible, but He came to animate thy confidence, heal thy wounds and make thee glad: this gave wings to thy love of thy Lord.

When for Christ’s sake thou wast stripped of thy garments, O venerable Barbara! a bright Angel clothed thee, as a bride, with a splendid robe, which covered thy wounds; for thou hast put on the stole which gives creatures a divine transformation.

Thy prophecy, O Christ, has been evidently fulfilled: for the father delivers his daughter up to death, may himself becomes her murderer; but this cruel parent of thy Martyr is, in a wonderful manner, consumed by fire from heaven.

Thou, most honored Virgin, having entered the path of combatants, didst resist thy father’s demands, and, as a wise virgin bearing her lamp, thou didst go into the mansions of thy Lord: He gave thee, O generous Martyr, the power to drive away pestilence; pray to God for us who hymn thy praises, and deliver us from our spiritual diseases.

To this the voice of so many Churches we join ours, O faithful Virgin! and thou we are unworthy, yet do we offer thee our praise and our prayers. Behold! our Lord cometh, and the darkness of the night is upon us; give to our lamp both the light which will guide us, and the oil which will keep in the light. Thou knowest that He Who came for love of thee, and with Whom thou art now united for all eternity, is coming to visit us too; pray for us that nothing may keep us from receiving Him. May we go towards Him courageously and swiftly as thou didst, and being once with Him, may we never be separated from Him again, for He is the Center where we creatures find our only rest. Pray also, O glorious Martyr, that the faith in the Blessed Trinity may be ever increasing in this world. May our enemy, Satan, be confounded by every tongue’s confessing the Threefold light, and the triumphant Cross which sanctifies the waters of Baptism. Remember, O blessed Barbara, thou Spouse of Jesus, that He has put in thy gentle hands the power not of hurling but of staying and averting the thunderbolt. Protect our ships against the fires of heaven and of war. Shield by thy protection the arsenals where are placed the defense of our country. Hear the prayers of them that invoke thee, whether in the fierceness of the storm, or in the dark depths of the earth; and save us all from the awful chatisement of a sudden death.

Let us consider how the various nations on the face of the earth, though differing in customs and speech and interests, are all united in the expectation of a Deliverer soon to come. Neither the frightful corruption of morals, nor the long ages which have passed since the promises were given, have been able to efface the tradition, or the hope it inspired. At the very time when the world seems crumbling into dissolution, there is evinced a strong symptom of vigor, and from one end of the earth to the other there is heard this cry: The King of the universe is soon to appear; a new Empire, holy and everlasting, is to bring all peoples into one. It is thus, O Jesus! that Jacob prophesied on his dying bed, when he said, speaking of Thee: He shall be the Expectation of nations. Men have, indeed, searched after, and found, the way to the lowest degradation; but they could not prevent the fulfillment of this prophecy: and by their expectation of a happier state of things, they themselves fulfill it; and by fulfilling it, are confessing that their misery has no remedy save Thyself. Come, then, O Son of God! and cherish this ray of hope, of the ancient world, which renders Thee this its only homage, even while falling under the weight of its own wretchedness. The expectation of a Deliverer is the bond of union between the two great divisions of the human race, those who preceded and those who have lived since thy Nativity. But if the pagan world, from the depth of its vices and errors, could sigh after Thee, O Jesus! what shall we not do, who have inherited what was promised, now that Thou art preparing to come and take possession of our souls? We already know Thee, for Thou has initiated us into Thy Mysteries; we cannot do less, dear Jesus! we are longing for Thee during these days of Advent. When the beautiful day of Thy visit comes, mayst Thou find that Thy love is already in our hearts. Make our expectation more fervid, increase our faith, and Come!

Responsory of Advent (Roman Breviary, Matins of the First Sunday)

We look for the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ; * Who will reform the body of our lowliness made like to the Body of His glory. ?. Let us live soberly, and justly, and piously in this world, looking for the blessed hope and Coming of the glory of the great God, * Who will reform the body of our lowliness made like to the Body of His glory.

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