St. Barbara, also commemorated today, was a virgin martyr. St. Barbara suffered at Heliopolis, in Egypt, in the reign of Galerius, about the year 306. The details of her holy life are unknown; but she has been held in veneration throughout the Church from the date of her martyrdom. This account agrees with the emperor Basil”s Menology, and the Greek Synaxery. There stood an old monastery near Edessa, which bore her name.
According to legend, Saint Barbara was the extremely beautiful daughter of a wealthy heathen named Dioscorus. Because of her singular beauty and fearful that she be demanded in marriage and taken away from him, he jealously shut her up in a tower to protect her from the outside world. Shortly before embarking on a journey, he commissioned a sumptuous bathhouse to be built for her, approving the design before he departed. Barbara had heard of the teachings of Christ, and while her father was gone spent much time in contemplation. From the windows of her tower she looked out upon the surrounding countryside and marveled at the growing things; the trees, the animals and the people. She decided that all these must be part of a master plan, and that the idols of wood and stone worshipped by her parents must be condemned as false. Gradually she came to accept the Christian faith.
As her belief became firm, she directed that the builders redesign the bathhouse her father had planned, adding another window so that the three windows might symbolize the Holy Trinity.
When her father returned, he was enraged at the changes and infuriated when Barbara acknowledged that she was a Christian. He dragged her before the perfect of the province, who decreed that she be tortured and put to death by beheading. Dioscorus himself carried out the death sentence. On his way home he was struck by lightening and his body consumed.
Saint Barbara was venerated as early as the seventh century. The legend of the lightning bolt which struck down her persecutor caused her to be regarded as the patron saint in time of danger from thunderstorms, fires and sudden death.
When gunpowder made its appearance in the Western world, Saint Barbara was invoked for aid against accidents resulting from explosions–since some of the earlier artillery pieces often blew up instead of firing their projectile, Saint Barbara became the patroness of the artillerymen.
(Adapted from The New Roman Missal, Rev. F. X. Lasance, Butler”s Lives of the Saints, and other sources)