Home    History index

St Barbara

Patron Saint of Artillerymen

Saint Barbara is the patron saint of Artillerymen. Her feast day, the 4th December, is celebrated throughout the Regiment. There are at least two legends of St Barbara, that given first being the most appropriate to the Regiment.

first legend   |   second legend

First Legend

This beautiful legend shows us how appropriate was the choice of the Virgin and the Martyr St Barbara as the patroness of artillerymen.

Alypius, the Saint's father, during military service in the East, became friendly with a certain Fakir, from whom he learned marvellous secrets as to the use of naphtha and saltpetre. From the same source he also learned the preparation of Bengal lights.

Alypius, on his return to his native town, Hippo, devoted his life to the study of chemistry. Barbara received a liberal education, spoke several languages, and in addition became deeply interested in her father's research work. By their united efforts in the laboratory an explosive of extraordinary power was discovered.

The beauty of Barbara attracted many suitors, but she rejected them all and entered the convent of St Perpetua, founded by St Augustine.

Africa was then prey to invasions, and one evening in the summer of AD430 the Vandals arrived under the walls of Hippo. The town closed its gates and a siege began.

The barbarians dug wide trenches round the city walls and threw therein the dead bodies of men and animals, the slain of their recent conflict. By this means they hoped to overcome the besieged by causing death from fever and plague. Alypius, in this hour of need, summoned his daughter from the convent to assist in the defence of the city. While they were placing large jars, full of mysterious substance, in position, Alypius was killed by an arrow. Barbara the sole possessor of her father's secrets, was called upon to continue the heroic combat. She ordered the contents of the urns to be poured into the enemies trenches. In an instant the substance ignited, consumed the putrified bodies and dispelled the pestilential miasmas.

During the 14 month siege, the surprise attacks of the enemy were frustrated by the frequent use of Bengal lights, and at intervals incandescent globes of fire were hurled from catapults at the enemy. After an heroic struggle the besiegers captured the city and thirsting for revenge stormed into the convent where Barbara had sought refuge when the city was forced to surrender. The warrior saint was, however, prepared for emergencies and had accumulated a quantity of explosives in one of the subterranean passages of the convent.

At the crucial moment a deafening explosion was heard and both conquerors and vanquished were crushed beneath the debris of masonry. Thus did the Saint with her companions escape the outrages of a licentious soldiery.

For this reason Barbara is held to be patroness of Fire, Cannon and Firearms; she is also invoked against the thunder and lightenings of Heaven; for just previous to her death Barbara prayed that whosoever should invoke her aid might receive protection against implements of war and lightening.

Back to top

Second Legend

Barbara was the beautiful daughter of Dioscorus, a rather bad-tempered heathen nobleman, who lived in Heliopolis, Egypt. He adored her in his own peculiar way, but was so afraid of losing her in marriage that he kept her guarded in a high tower, a virtual prisoner.

In her solitude Barbara meditated and studied the stars. The more she dwelled upon these heavenly bodies the more she became convinced that the wooden and stone images her parents worshipped could not be real gods, nor could they have created the wonders she contemplated. She decided there must be a true God, but she knew not whom.

Later, while still confined in her tower, and while Dioscorus was away, she heard of the holy man Origen who was teaching the Gospel in Alexandria. Longing to know more of this new faith, she communicated with him by messenger.

Origen was so pleased he despatched one of his disciples disguised as a physician to peak to her. The disciple soon completed Barbara's conversion and baptised her.

Now prior to his departure Dioscorus had ordered to be built a magnificent bath-chamber with two windows within the tower Barbara occupied. After studying the plans she altered them to include a third window.

On his return Dioscorus, annoyed that Barbara had changed the plans without his permission, demanded to know why. She replied, 'Know, my father, that through three windows doth the soul receive light, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and the Three are One.' Realising that Barbara had embraced Christianity Dioscorus flew into a rage, drew his sword, and would have killed her had she not fled.

Later he captured her, threw her into a dungeon, and had her tortured and scourged. Barbara prayed for courage to endure the punishment, rejoicing to suffer for Christ, steadfastly refusing entreaties to give up her new faith, and ignoring threats of dire consequences if she did not.

Seeing he could not break her will, Dioscorus carried her to the top of a nearby mountain where with his own hand he beheaded her. But as he descended the mountain a terrific thunderstorm broke; lightening struck Dioscorus and completely burned him up.
Probably for this reason Barbara is invoked against thunder and lightening, and all accidents arising from the use of explosives. The frequency of such accidents in the early days of ordnance is possibly the reason she was selected as the Patron Saint of Artillerymen.

Return to top

LJ Skinner
December 1998

History Index    |    Home