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SAINT BARBARA/ A story of a belonging to Christ that speaks to people today

GIOVANNI FIGHERA comments on the figure of Saint Barbara, a martyr of the first years of the Church, before Christians were free to practice, in honor of her death on this day.

Pinturicchia, Saint Barbara fleeing the tower Pinturicchia, Saint Barbara fleeing the tower

The dies natalis is the day in which man is born to new life in Heaven. What we usually call death is indicated by the tradition of the Church to be the day of birth. The 4th of December 4 is the dies natalis of Saint Barbara, who suffered martyrdom by decapitation at the hands of her father. The year is not certain, since the different sources that have handed the memory of the saint down to us differ in this respect. The martyrdom might have taken place either under the reign of Maximinus Thrax (235-238), Maximian (286-305) or under Maximinus Daia (308-313). In any case, it was before the Edict of Milan issued by Constantine of which we are already celebrating the two thousandth anniversary and that extended freedom of worship to all citizens of the Roman Empire. Written sources that tell us about her, or the passiones, books about the passion or martyrdom of the saint, also differ on the origin of the saint, most likely coming from Nicomedia or from Heliopolis, or even from Tuscany.

Santa Barbara is a very popular saint, much represented in the artistic tradition (by Botticelli, Raphael, Pinturicchio, Lotto, etc.), who, however, was less interesting to history, which has not studied her very much. Let us not forget, however, that monuments (or “memories”) of the past also consist in the traditions handed down to posterity that are not written.

Here is the story in brief. A rich pagan father named Dioscorus guarded his daughter Barbara in a tower (an element that appears in traditional iconography with the palm, the crown, the sword or the ciborium with the host above it), because, protective of her extraordinary beauty, he decided to hide her from her many suitors. Barbara’s tower-prison was equipped with a large bathroom. One day, when her father left, Barbara, who had long since devoted her heart to Christ, took advantage of the opportunity to be baptized and, as a sign of her faith in the Holy Trinity, she built a third window in her tower.  

When he found out about the Christian faith of his daughter, the father punished and tortured her multiple times. “Dioscuro [...] dragged her in front of the judge, who tried her cruelly. Christ, however, infused her with strength and gave her a companion in Juliana. But the tyrant wanted to strike at Barbara’s heart, so he undressed the young girl and showed her in the markets of the region to the greedy eyes of a curious crowd. Barbara called on God to fill the sky with clouds and the earth with the fog of the morning and evening. And God heard her prayer” (Peter Manns).