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Christmas A to Z

Learn interesting, unusual, unique and useful facts and tips about Christmas and the winter holiday season, in America and around the world.

St. Barbara, The Pyrotechnic Saint of Engineers

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While she’s still a Saint, she no longer has her own day on the Catholic Church calendar. It used to be December 4, which is why we thought she would be interesting to learn about.

Her history is somewhat doubtful (leading to her removal from the calendar) but it goes back to the Third Century when her father, a wealthy (and pagan) Greek, locked her in a tower in his castle to protect her from the world. Somehow, while she was in the tower, she was converted from paganism to Christianity. And, when dad ordered that a bathhouse be built for her, she added a third window to symbolize the Trinity.

When dad got home from a business trip Barbara acknowledged her Christianity and her father drew his sword to kill her. Instead, she prayed to be saved and was miraculously transported from her tower to a valley where two shepherds were watching their sheep. One denied that he had seen her while the other said that he had – and was immediately turned to stone.

Attempts to torture her because of her faith were thwarted because when they tried to burn her the flames went out before they reached her. Other methods were tried and each morning her wounds were healed. Her dark prison cell was miraculously bathed in light each night. When she was finally executed it fell to her father to behead her – and he was instantly struck by lightning and his body destroyed by fire.

That fate led to her becoming the patron saint of people involved with explosives, and as a protector of those fearful of lightning and similar threats. Possibly because of her window-building experience she is also a patron saint of engineers and mathematicians.

Barbara is also venerated as a patron of the harvest and wheat is often associated with her. On her feast day young girls would seek her advice about their futures and farmers would often plant wheat in small dishes of moss. The amount of sprouts that grew was supposed to be an indicator of the next year’s harvest, while the direction in which they grew was supposed to indicate the direction of the prevailing winds for the year.

Written by Dianne Weller
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