Saint Barbara, known in the Eastern Orthodox Church as the Great Martyr Barbara, was a Christian saint and martyr. Although there is no reference to her in the authentic early Christian writings, nor in the original recension of Saint Jerome's martyrology, veneration of her was common from the seventh century. Because of doubts about the historicity of her legend, she was removed from the official Catholic calendar in 1969. However, she continues to be a popular saint in modern times, perhaps best known as the patron saint of artillerymen because of her legend's association with lightning.
This summary omits picturesque details found in some versions. These recount that, when her father discovered that she was a Christian, he wanted to kill her, but her prayers created an opening in the tower wall and she escaped. Pursued by her father and guards, she hid in a gorge in the mountains. She stayed hidden here until a shepherd betrayed her. As legend has it, the shepherd was transformed into a marble statue and his herd into grasshoppers. When tortured, Barbara held true to her faith. During the night, the dark prison was bathed in light and new miracles occurred. Every morning her wounds were healed. Torches that were to be used to burn her went out as soon as they came near her. According to one version, she died on 4 December 306 in her native Nicomedia, Bithynia, Asia Minor.
Saint Barbara is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers (also known as Helpers in Need). Her association with the lightning that killed her father has caused her to be invoked against lightning and fire; by association with explosions, she is also the patron of artillery and mining. Her feast on 4 December was included in the Tridentine Calendar, having been introduced in Rome in the twelfth century. In 1729 that date was assigned to the celebration of Saint Peter Chrysologus, reducing that of Saint Barbara to a commemoration in his Mass. In 1969, because the accounts of her life and martyrdom were judged to be entirely fabulous, lacking clarity even about the place of her martyrdom, it was removed from that calendar. But she is still mentioned in the Roman Martyrology, which, in addition, lists another ten martyr saints named Barbara.
Orthodox Christians have never ceased to venerate Saint Barbara, who is very popular among them. For them too her feast day is 4 December. In the 12th century, the relics of Saint Barbara were brought from Constantinople to the St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery in Kiev, where they were kept until the 1930s, when they were transferred to St. Vladimir's Cathedral in the same city.
The name "Barbara" literally means "a barbarian woman". Since the saint's family is described as being respectable Roman citizens, it must have been already in use as a plain given name at the time when the story came into circulation.
The Spanish word santabárbara and the corresponding Italian word santabarbara mean the powder magazine of a ship or fortress. It was customary to have a statue of Saint Barbara at the magazine to protect the ship or fortress from suddenly exploding.
Saint Barbara’s Day, 4 December, may be celebrated by Irish Defence Forces Artillery Regiments and the Irish Reserve Defence Artillery regiments also the British (Royal_Artillery, RAF Armourers), Australian (RAAF Armourers), Canadian (Royal Canadian Artillery) and New Zealand (RNZA) artillery formations, units and sub-units with church parades, sports days, guest nights, cocktail parties, open house, and other activities. The Order of Saint Barbara is a military honor society of the US for both the US Army and the US Marine Corps Artillery, including field artillery and Air Defense Artillery.
The city of Santa Barbara, California, located approximately 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles, is so called because of the Franciscan mission there that was dedicated to her. There were many churches dedicated in her name in Russia, including one in Moscow next to Saint Basil's Cathedral and in Yaroslavl.
Saint Barbara is referenced in the song "Don't Let Me Explode" by the rock band The Hold Steady. Before performing the song at a 2006s Lollapalooza music festival, lead singer Craig Finn told the story of Saint Barbara to the crowd of several thousand fans. He compared being a Christian in her time to having facial tattoos.
In the Robert Heinlein book 'Space Cadet', Saint Barbara was referenced as also being the patron saint of Rocketmen due to the high likelihood of their deaths being sudden and caused by explosions. This may be seen as a natural progression from her use by Artillery units. In the aforementioned book, a mass is dedicated to her after the deaths of several trainee patrolmen in a rocket crash.