Barbara of Nicomedia

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Barbara's beheading by her father Dioscuros, Barbara altar by Jerg Ratgeb in the town church of Schwaigern , 1510

Barbara of Nicomedia (Barbara, from Greek Βαρβάρα "the foreigner") was a Christian virgin , martyr of the 3rd century . According to tradition, she was beheaded by her father for refusing to give up her Christian faith and virgin devotion to God. According to tradition, Barbara was the daughter of Dioscuros and lived at the end of the 3rd century in Nicomedia in Asia Minor (now İzmit ). According to another tradition, she lived in the Colonia Heliopolis (now Baalbek in Lebanon ). Her father is viewed by the various versions as a king or at least a rich merchant or a member of the imperial bodyguard. In the Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church , Barbara is venerated as a saint . Barbaras is also thought of as a martyr in the evangelical calendar of names.

Hagiographic lore

execution of Barbara of Nicomedia on the left, Margaret of Antioch on the right: winged altar in St. Nikolai (Oberbobritzsch) , 1521

As the Legenda aurea narrates , Barbara was a very beautiful and clever young woman, so that many men from Nicomedia asked for her hand. Barbara, however, rejected the suitors. The young woman visited a group of young Christians who met secretly despite the persecution of Christians by the emperor. Barbara learned the gospel there and realized that she wanted to become a Christian.

Barbara's father Dioscuros tried to shield her from the outside world and locked her in a specially built tower (according to some versions out of jealousy, according to other stories Barbara was supposed to be married to a youth of the imperial court). The main reason for locking the girl up was the father's desperate attempt to prevent Barbara's turn to Christianity .

In the seclusion of her prison, Barbara confessed to Christianity against her father's will. The father tried to persuade her with torture and torture, but this strengthened her belief. She had a third window added to the tower (according to another legend, the adjoining bathhouse) - as a symbol of the Trinity . Illuminated by the Holy Spirit , Barbara was baptized in a pagan sacrificial basin . When her father found out about this, he decided to kill his daughter. Barbara was able to flee into a crevice that miraculously opened before her. However, she was betrayed by a shepherd. This was transformed by God into a stone (according to another legend, into a dung beetle), his sheep into grasshoppers or beetles.

Dioscuros found his daughter, beat her and brought her to the Roman governor Marcianus, who sentenced her to death. In the city, she was so brutally mistreated that her skin was left in tatters. In the prison cell, Christ appeared to her and healed her wounds. The bitter governor had them beaten in public with clubs, cut off their breasts and tortured with torches. Before her death, Barbara prayed, then an angel appeared and wrapped her in a snow-white, glowing robe. Ultimately, the cruel father beheaded his daughter himself. Shortly afterwards, he was struck by lightning and burned, which, according to legend, happened in 306 under Emperor Maximinus Daia .


The Memorial of St. Barbara in the liturgy of the Catholic and the Greek Orthodox Church since the 12th century, 4. December , the popularly Barbara's called. In the other Eastern churches based on the Julian calendar , such as the Georgian or the Russian Orthodox Church , the day of remembrance is observed on December 17th. The day of remembrance on December 4th was included in the Protestant calendar of names.

In the course of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council , St. Barbara deleted from the general Roman calendar because her existence was not historically guaranteed. However, because of the great veneration she enjoyed among the people, her memorial day was retained in some regional calendars.

A small relic of St. Barbara is in the pilgrimage church of St. Hildegard and St. John the Baptist in Eibingen in the Rheingau . This relic belongs to the Eibingen reliquary treasure that Hildegard von Bingen has collected. Another relic has been in the altar of St. Antonius Church in Iseringhausen since 1647 .

Patronage and iconography

Barbara as the protector of the miners in the church of St. Johannes Baptist in Sankt Johann (near Mayen) , stained glass window
Virgo inter virgines of the master of the Lucia legend. St. Barbara can be recognized by the miners' headgear, the cloak with the towers and the flower in her hand.
Icon of the saint in the consecrated Russian Orthodox Church of St. Barbara (Krefeld)

Saint Barbara is one of the fourteen helpers in need , and her behavior in the face of persecution and death is a symbol of resistance and steadfastness in faith. This is indicated by their representation with their attribute , the tower, which usually contains three windows. That is why she is revered as the patroness of the towers and fortress structures. Because of the installation of the window opening in the tower, which was commissioned by her, she is considered the patron saint of architects and all types of construction workers (bricklayers, carpenters, roofers and electricians) as well as bell- rangers , tower- keepers and bell-makers .

Because of the sudden death of Dioscuros, which took place without receiving the sacraments , St. Barbara is generally invoked against sudden and unpredictable death. The representation with the host and chalice is probably derived from this.

Peasants ask her to protect them from sudden horrors such as lightning, thunder and fire. In addition to the lack of the sacraments of the death, this should refer to the lightning that struck Dioscuros. She is therefore a patron saint of the fire brigade and other professions that are exposed to these dangers, making weapons themselves or dealing with fire, including fireworkers , goldsmiths, demolition masters , saltpeters , gunsmiths and armourers. That is why a torch is one of its attributes.

Because of the sudden death, and since legend has it that the saint was protected by a rock that opened and hid her, the miners chose her as their patroness, as did the ironworkers, stone cutters and geologists. The representation with mining tools is therefore obvious .

Saint Barbara is venerated as the patron saint of artillery and is depicted with a cannon in the hope that the artillery will hit its targets in the same way that lightning hit Dioscuros, or because of the connection with sudden death. This veneration can also possibly be traced back to a legend from the time of the Moorish Wars in Spain. After that, the missiles of the Christian besiegers of a pagan city on the shores of Africa could not penetrate its walls. It was only when the besiegers invoked the saints that the fire of the artillery brought in for reinforcement brought the walls to collapse immediately after the first shots. The pagans had to surrender, many of whom accepted the Christian faith because of the miracle. The legend also tells that the pious artillerymen, out of gratitude, placed the image of St. Barbara in the powder chambers of their ships before going home . When fire broke out on one of the ships on the way back to Spain, the flames went out miraculously as they approached the image of the patron saint. The powder chamber on French ships is called La Sainte Barbe in French and “Barbette” (little Barbara) on German ships. The shrines of St. Barbara can be found on ships and boats of the German Navy, mostly in the area of ​​the battery .

Because of the similarity of their name to the Latin barba (cf. Barbarossa ), professions that process hair or hair-like material are said to have come under the protection of Barbara. In addition to brush binders , this applies to hat makers , which is why Barbara wears a tower as headgear in some depictions, which is supposed to symbolize the high bonnets of the 15th century. The other professions to which Saint Barbara serves as a patron saint for the reasons mentioned above also include butchers, cooks, grave diggers and booksellers. She is also the patroness of the girls, the dying and the prisoners.

Saint Barbara is often represented with two other virgin martyrs and helpers in need, Catherine of Alexandria and Margaret of Antioch . There is the following motto for the “three holy girls” (with reference to their iconographic attributes): Margareta with the worm, Barbara with the tower, Katharina with the bike, these are the three holy girls. Saint Barbara, who is usually depicted as an elegant virgin , is usually depicted with a martyr's palm , crown and sword, sometimes a book is also used as an attribute. In Raphael's altarpiece of the Sistine Madonna , St. Barbara together with St. Pope Sixtus is depicted, who also suffered martyrdom in the 3rd century. Relics of both were venerated in the church of San Sisto in Piacenza , for which the altarpiece was created.

Saint Barbara is the patron saint of the diocese of Katowice and the places Ashton under Hill , Culemborg , Ferrara , Guastalla (with the associated duchy ), Heliopolis , Maldegem , Mantua . Roy , Phenicia and Pedena . In addition, places were named after the saint ( St. Barbara , Santa Barbara ), including the market meaning Sankt Barbara in Mürz Valley . There is also one of the many in Europe dedicated to St. Churches and chapels consecrated to Barbara . Various streets were named after her, and she is also shown in the coat of arms of Ruda Śląska .

regional customs

Martyrdom of Saint Barbara, German painting, Transylvania , 16th century, Brukenthal Art Museum, Sibiu

According to an old tradition, branches of a fruit tree (usually a cherry tree , an apple tree ) or a forsythia are cut and placed in the water on Barbara Day . These Barbara branches should bloom until Christmas Eve and bring a little light into the apartment in the cold and gloomy winter time. This goes back to a single train in legend: On the way to the prison, Barbara got caught with her robe on a branch. She put the broken branch in a jar of water and it bloomed on the very day she was sentenced to death.

There is also barbara wheat , which is sown on a plate on barbara day and is supposed to sprout by Christmas. This "winter green" is known as the plate seed or Adonis garden.

The old peasant rules also refer to Barbara: "The sun gives way to Barbara / Lucia shows it again."

In the old custom of Bärbelespringens or “Bärbelespringens” in Oberallgäu, women disguised as “old women” walk through the streets with their willow rods to distribute blows of rods and give children apples and nuts.

Barbara shrines in the Konrad iron ore
mine (left) and in the Asse II salt mine (right).
Vienna: former Barbara chapel in the form of a tunnel portal, built in 1898 on the suburban line of the Vienna light rail

In many underground tunnels and mines there are niches or shrines with Barbara's sculptures. In the mining and stone industry villages of the Eifel, it was the custom for miners and stonemasons to light the pit lamps as consecration lights in front of their portraits, where the "bright woman" is one of the most popular saints .

According to old mining tradition, the feast of St. Barbara on December 4th is a public holiday on which work is usually stopped and the patroness is remembered. The traditions of the respective areas are maintained with barbara celebrations of different characters.

In many (former) mining locations, for example, a miner move takes place on St. Barbara's Day or on the Sunday after St. Barbara's Day. The miners often wear their miner's uniform for this move. This mountain smock of the miners in Silesia , Austria and in the Ruhr mining industry is often decorated with 29 buttons, which are supposed to symbolize Barbara's 29 years of life. Often the top three buttons are open; they either symbolize faith, hope and love, the Trinity or are intended to remind of Barbara's three-year imprisonment. The nine points on the pelerine collar are reminiscent of the nine years of imprisonment in the tower.

The artillerymen and pioneers , but mostly also the Army anti-aircraft troops that emerged from the artillery and the anti-aircraft missile troops of the Air Force, celebrate the Barbara celebration on December 4th. The saint is remembered, thanked for her protection from shooting accidents and the past year is looked back in mostly humorous ways. During the demolition service of the fire brigades in Austria, one calls next to St. Florian Barbara as patron saint.

In some fire brigades in Saarland and the Rhineland, Saint Barbara is also commemorated, usually on the last weekend in November. Before the celebration there is a service to commemorate the comrade who died in action. In addition, the firefighters call on St. Barbara for her intercession so that they can return home safely from operations. Although in the Austrian fire brigade generally St. Florian is the patron saint, Saint Barbara is venerated by the fire brigade's demolition services.

In the Rhineland there has been a custom since the beginning of the 20th century to give presents to children on Barbara Day. The evening before, the children set up a shoe, which is then filled with sweets, pastries or fruit. In some areas of the Rhineland, Barbara is seen as the companion of St. Nicholas and helps to give presents to the children.


In the Catholic parish of St. Barbara in Mülheim an der Ruhr, the 60-minute Barbara Oratory was created in 2014 on the initiative of the Barbaramahl Board of Trustees in the Diocese of Essen . The work, which consists of four acts and nine scenes, was written by the Mülheim pastor Manfred von Schwartzenberg, the music comes from the church musician Burkard Maria Kölsch. The premiere took place on November 28, 2014 in the Barbarakirche.



  • Reinhard Abeln: Saint Barbara. Life - Legends - Meaning . Topos, Kevelaer 2011. ISBN 978-3-8367-0768-8 .
  • Elisabeth W. Caprio: The woman sealed in the tower… being a view of feminine spirituality as revealed by the legend of Saint Barbara. Paulist Press, New York 1982. ISBN 0-8091-2486-6 .
  • Helmut Eberhart: St. Barbara, legend, representation and tradition of a popular saint. Collector, Graz 1988. ISBN 3-85365-070-8 .
  • Rolfroderich Nemitz, Dieter Thierse: St. Barbara. A saint's way through time. Glückauf, Essen 1996. ISBN 3-7739-0639-0 .
  • Kirsten Wolf: The old Norse-Icelandic legend of Saint Barbara. Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto 2000. ISBN 0-88844-134-7 .

Lexicon articles and contributions to Barbara

Saint Barbara in art

  • Delia Bösch, Thomas Mayer: Good luck! The everlasting Barbara calendar . With twelve depictions of Saint Barbara from the Zollverein art shaft, Klartext Verlag 2010, ISBN 978-3-8375-0329-6 .

Web links

Commons : St. Barbara  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Reference to the differing traditions in Johann Evangelist Stadler's Complete Lexicon of Saints , Barbara
  2. ^ Page of the Legenda aurea with the Barbara legend in Latin, based on the digitized version of the Cologne 1479 edition.
  3. ^ City of Bottrop: The holy Barbara
  4. a b c d e f g h i Barbara in the Ecumenical Saint Lexicon , accessed on September 9, 2011
  5. Schott Missal, Proprium for December 4th
  6. ^ A b Dietrich Heinrich Kerler: The patronage of the saints Heinrich Kerler Verlags-Conto, Ulm 1905, S. 5–6, full text in the Google book search USA
  7. a b c d e Erna and Hans Melchers: The great book of saints - history and legend in the course of the year ; Südwest Verlag Munich; 4th edition 1980; ISBN 3-517-00617-3 ; Page 783f
  8. a b c Richard Stracke: St. Barbara in Art., August 30, 2015, accessed on November 27, 2016 .
  9. a b Dietrich Heinrich Kerler: The patronage of the saints Heinrich Kerler Verlags-Conto, Ulm 1905, p. 99 f., Full text in the Google book search USA
  10. Dietrich Heinrich Kerler: The patronage of the saints Heinrich Kerler Verlags-Conto, Ulm 1905, S. 344, full text in the Google book search USA
  11. Dietrich Heinrich Kerler: The patronage of the saints . Heinrich Kerler Verlags-Conto, Ulm 1905, p. 176, full text in the Google Book Search USA
  12. Marielene Putscher: Raphael's Sistine Madonna. The work and its effect. 2 volumes (Vol. 1: Textband. Vol. 2: 195 sheets (in a folder)). Hopfer, Tübingen 1955 (at the same time: Hamburg Univ. Diss., November 1, 1955), p. 193, preview in the Google book search
  13. a b : Barbara-Customs
  14. An immigrant patron saint for the Ruhr mining industry
  15. Eifel folk customs around mid-winter and the turn of the year . In: Bonner Generalanzeiger of December 4, 1936
  16. Barbara celebration and barbarian shooting of the reconnaissance and artillery battalion 4 of December 3, 2008, accessed on December 4, 2011.
  17. ^ Emil Emscher : The meaning of the miner's smock ( Memento from February 12, 2013 in the web archive )
  18. Landsmannschaft Schlesien : A Brief History of the Miner's Uniform
  19. Der Bergkittel , accessed on September 19, 2017.
  20. Hansgeorg Leidreiter: Thoughts on the social-psychological significance of the feast of St. Barbara for the officer corps of the artillery , In: Truppenpraxis 10/1983, p. 737f
  21. BFKDO Wiener Neustadt , accessed on November 28, 2016.
  22. ^ Blasting service of the Lower Austrian Fire Brigade Association , accessed on December 4, 2011.
  23. Kathpedia about Msgr. Manfred von Schwartzenberg
  24. ^ Parish of St. Barbara in Mülheim an der Ruhr