St. Barbara, Virgin and Martyr
The holy virgin and martyr, St. Barbara, who, from the most ancient times, has been celebrated in the whole Christian world, was born of heathen parents in Nicomedia, of Bithynia. She was much beloved by her father, Dioscorus, on account of her unusual intelligence. He appointed a tower as a special place, well fitted up, for her dwelling, and chose the best masters to instruct her in art and science, but especially in paganism, as he feared she might be induced to unite herself to one not agreeable to him, or be seduced by the Christians, of whom he was a great enemy. But just this solicitude of her father gave her cause to think, and thus to arrive at the knowledge of the true God. She contemplated the heavens, the sun, moon and stars, in their regular course; she meditated on the changing of the seasons; looked on the wonderful creation of the world and its inhabitants, and justly concluded from it that there must be a Creator–that He alone must be the true God, and that the gods she worshipped had no power. To these contemplations she united prayers, and also led a most blameless life. The Almighty, who forsakes not one who aids himself, gave her opportunity to become instructed in the Christian religion, and to receive holy baptism, without the knowledge of her father.
Meanwhile, a suitor for her hand came to her father and asked his consent. Dioscorus was not unwilling to grant the wish, as the young man was his equal in rank and wealth; but he would make his daughter acquainted with the offer he had received for her before he gave his word. Barbara had a great many objections; and her father, who did not desire that she should hastily give her consent, and would not coerce her, urged her no further; and as he was about to set out on a long journey, he thought it but right to give her some time for consideration. Barbara requested to have, for her greater comfort, a bathingroom added to her dwelling, which Dioscorus gladly granted her. The object of the holy virgin was, to have a special apartment where, with those who, like herself, were secretly Christians, she could pray to the true God. The father ordered two windows for the new room; Barbara, however, had a third added, in honor of the three Divine Persons in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The room was, by the pagan’s order, adorned with idolatrous statues, with which the holy virgin would gladly have dispensed. Looking at them, she wept over the blindness of her father, who desired that she should worship them as gods. Going from one to another, she spat upon them, saying: “Those who honor you as gods are worthy to be turned into what you are made of–wood and stone.” After this, she went to a column of marble, and with her fingers pressed the sign of the cross upon it, as if it had been wax. After her death, the health of many infirm, who devoutly kissed this miraculous cross, was restored.
No sooner had her father returned from his journey, than he desired to know his daughter’s resolution. Already prepared by prayer for the approaching struggle, she said, unhesitatingly, that she would never consent to marry a pagan, as, being a Christian, she had chosen a much more noble spouse, Christ the Lord. Her father was speechless at this unexpected answer, and, when able to control himself, told her either to renounce Christ, or prepare herself for the most cruel death. The greater the wrath of the blind Dioscorus became, the more fearless was Barbara. This enraged him so greatly, that he seized his sword to take her life on the spot. Barbara, to escape his rage, fled, while her father, sword in hand, pursued her out of the city. According to an ancient legend, the fugitive virgin came to a rock, which miraculously opened, thus offering her a passage, and shielded her, for the moment, against her father’s wrath. The latter, however, was not touched by this visible miracle, but passed over the mountain and pursued the maiden, as the hound pursues the deer. Barbara had, meanwhile, taken refuge in a cave, and would not have been found had not two shepherds informed the infuriated father of her retreat. Hastening towards the place, he found her praying. No tiger could assail his prey with more rage than this tyrant assailed his innocent child. He threw her on the ground, stamped upon her with his feet, beat her, and finally dragged her by the hair into the hut of a peasant, where he locked her up, until he had her brought back to his house by soldiers. Now began her martyrdom, which was so severe, that what she had before suffered was as nothing in comparison; for, Dioscorus was determined to force her to deny Christ. Seeing, at last, that all was in vain, he gave her up to the governor, Martian, that she might be dealt with according to the laws of the land.
Martian at first showed compassion for the Saint, in consideration for her youth, and endeavored to win her by flattery and kind words. Not succeeding in this, he had recourse to severity, and had her whipped with scourges, until her whole body seemed to be but one great wound. After this, she was dragged to a dungeon, where she was left to die. The Almighty, however, who had destined her to still more glorious combats, sent an Angel during the night, who healed all her wounds, and encouraged her to perseverance, with the promise that she would overcome all tortures by Divine assistance. The following day she was again brought before Martian, who, not comprehending how Barbara had been healed, ascribed it to his gods. The virgin, however, said: ” No, no, Martian! Wood and stone, of which your idols are made, have not this power. It is the work of the God of heaven and earth, whom I worship as the only true God, and for whose honor I am willing to die.” Martian, full of anger at these words, ordered her to be tormented more cruelly than on the previous day. After her body was all bruised and wounded, she was barbarously burned with torches, and at last both her breasts were cut off. The torture was very great, but the eagerness of Barbara to suffer for Christ’s sake was still greater. She gave no sign of pain, but turning her eyes to heaven, said: “Let not thy hand, O Lord, forsake me! In Thee I am full of strength; without Thee, I am powerless!”
A new martyrdom followed after this. The tyrant commanded her to be scourged in public through all the streets of the city. This was more terrible to her than all her previous tortures; hence she turned to the Almighty, praying humbly that she might not be exposed to the eyes of the heathen. She was immediately surrounded by a bright lustre, that veiled her form from all eyes. The barbarous Dioscorus was present at the martyrdom of his holy daughter, from beginning to end, and not only looked with satisfaction at the whipping, burning, and cutting, but animated the executioners in their cruelties; and when Martian, at last, sentenced Barbara to be beheaded, he asked, as a favor, to be allowed to take the place of the executioner, and behead his daughter. Having obtained his request, Dioscorus took her to a neighboring mountain, followed by a great crowd of people. Barbara rejoiced to be thought worthy to die for Christ’s sake; and no sooner had she reached the mountain, than she again thanked God for all the graces that He had bestowed upon her, and begged Him to assist her to the end. A voice was heard from on high, which invited the undaunted martyr to come and receive the crown that awaited her. Kneeling down, she bared her neck, and received from her father the fatal stroke. She was hardly twenty years of age.
Juliana, a pious woman, who had been present at the martyrdom, burned with the holy desire to give her life, also, for Christ, and was beheaded on the same day, after she had suffered great torments. Her body was laid beside the body of St. Barbara; but her soul followed the soul of the fearless virgin into heaven, Quite different was the end of the inhuman father. Whilst he was descending from the mountain, with the blood of his innocent child still on his hands, a terrible thunder-storm arose, during which he was struck by lightning, and sank dead upon the ground. Thus the father went to hell on the same day on which his daughter ascended triumphantly to heaven. We must not omit to remark that St. Barbara is especially invoked in the whole Christian world for the grace of receiving the last sacrament before death; and many facts have shown that this invocation has the desired effect.
I. St. Barbara was executed by her own father, because she would not obey him, and deny the Christian faith. Dioscorus, the father, became the murderer of his own daughter. St. Barbara was right in not obeying her father; for when parents command anything that is against God, as the wicked Dioscorus did, children are not obliged to obey. In such circumstances, we must obey God, not our parents. Dioscorus’s deed in beheading his own daughter, because of her constancy in the Christian faith, was most wicked; and as he, to all appearances, died in his wickedness, he now justly suffers in hell. Still greater punishment shall those parents suffer in hell, who deprive their children of their eternal life, and kill their soul by preventing them from doing good, and tempting them, by words and by examples, to do evil: for the spiritual, the eternal life is so much more to be valued than that of the body. Parents, therefore, should take good care that they do not become spiritual murderers of their children; as, otherwise, the precious blood which ransomed those souls will cry for vengeance against them before the Judgment-seat of the Most High. “The wickedness of others has been our ruin; our parents have been our murderers.” Thus, according to St. Cyprian, will those children cry, standing before the eternal Judge. Children also, should be on their guard, and not allow their parents to lead them to sin, and consequently to destruction. To say before the Judgment-seat of the Almighty: “Our parents brought us to the path of sin,” will not be sufficient to excuse them, for, their own conscience will answer: “You knew that obedience was not required, when your parents commanded you to act contrary to the laws of God.”
II. St. Barbara is the special patroness of the dying. Her intercession has obtained for many, the grace not to die suddenly, or without having received the holy Sacraments. Try to obtain this grace, by honoring her and begging earnestly for it. But while doing this, do not neglect anything that you are obliged to do to obtain what you desire. Prepare yourself in time for death, and keep yourself in such a manner, that if anything should happen to you, you may not die unhappily; for, God has nowhere promised that these who ask the intercession of St. Barbara, will be saved from a sudden death; but He has commanded you to keep yourself prepared for death, if you desire that your last hour should be calm and happy. It is the greatest folly to postpone preparation for death, penance, reformation of life, or perhaps even the confession of certain sins, from one day to another, from one year to another, from health to sickness, and in sickness to the very last hour of life, in the thought that we can always obtain pardon. Of those who act in such a manner, St. Augustine says: “They seduce themselves, they deceive themselves, and play with death. It is highly dangerous, extremely foolish, and a horror to God, if we postpone anything on which our whole eternity depends, until the last convenient opportunity.” “If you tell me,” says St. Chrysostom, “that God has given many sinners time to convert themselves at the end of their lives, then I will ask you: Will He give it also to you? where is your assurance of it?” And of how many do we know with certainty that they obtained pardon in their last hour? St. Bernard says: “In the entire Scripture, only one is mentioned, the thief who was crucified with our Lord; one, that you may not despair; only one, that you may not presume.” Thinking of this one, think also of the other, who was crucified with Christ, but did not obtain pardon on that account. It was on Good-Friday, and he hung next to the Heart of Jesus on the Cross, yet he obtained no grace, no mercy. It is true that he did not seek it; but who knows if you will seek it? A sudden death may deprive you of the privilege of seeking it. Confusion and despair may overwhelm you in such a manner that you may not desire to seek it. If you wish to be sure, prepare yourself in time. “Tarry not in the error of the ungodly; give glory before death. Praise perisheth from the dead as nothing (Eccl. xvii.).” Confess before you are in danger of death, or before this danger is imminent. The confession of him who is half-dead, who has almost lost his consciousness, can not be trusted.
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.