St. Barbara, patron saint of artillery

At Marine Times I saw a fun piece about St. Barbara, who happens to be the patron saint of artilleries.  My emphases and comments.

How a Roman-era Rapunzel became the patron saint of artillery

On December 4, artillery units around the world traditionally celebrate the feast day of the mysterious St. Barbara, a Roman-era Rapunzel, who was removed from the Catholic Church’s calendar in 1969 over questions of her historical existence.  [HA!  She’s on the traditional calendar!  – mic drop – ]

The legend [aka hagiographical account] goes that young Barbara was the beautiful daughter of rich Roman pagan Dioscorus in the late third Century A.D. Attempting to protect her from the outside world he purportedly locked his beautiful daughter in the top of a tower, much like a Disney protagonist….

But the tower didn’t prevent God from reaching Barbara, who converted to Christianity without having ever interacted with any Christian from the time.  [Yes, God converted to Christianity at the Annunciation.]

Eventually Dioscurus found out about his daughter’s conversion[oh… Barbara’s conversion.  That’s the problem with non-inflected languages and sentences that problem should be broken up.] and, like the great dad he clearly was, [I sense a little sarcasm.] attempted to kill her in his rage. Barbara managed to escape from her father to the nearby hills, but a shepherd with a snitching problem returned her to her murderous father.

Attempting to cement his place as the worst dad of all-time, [Yeah… it was sarcasm.  There’s no such award.] Dioscurus took Barbara to the local Roman prefect and told him of her heretical rejection of paganism[Ummm… not quite, young man.  The paganism is the heretical part.  Actually, heresy is really the rejection or doubt of a core tenet of the Faith of the Catholic Church.] Barbara was then sentenced to death for her crimes, and surprise surprise, Dioscurus was given leave to behead his daughter. He gladly removed it and started to head home.

But Barbara got her revenge[Saints don’t get revenge.  In Romans 12:19, Paul cites Deuteronmy 32:25, giving us “‘Vengeance is mine’, says the Lord.”  Saints are incapable of desire for vengeance.  They desire only justice, with the right measure of mercy according to God’s will.]

In a call for fire that can only be described as mythic, [clearly a colloquial use of “mythic” for… “spectacular”] both Dioscurus and the Roman prefect were struck down by lighting and completely consumed into ashes, shortly after Barbara’s death.

Over time as the martyr’s story spread, she quickly became associated with protection from lighting and sudden fires.

When cannons showed up in Europe from China, in the 14th Century A.D., the dangers of the new weapon of war, quickly led Medieval cannoneers to search for some other-worldly protection.

The by-now canonized St. Barbara’s association with lightning and fire made her the natural choice among cannoneers.

Her association with cannons and gunpowder was so close that santabárbara, her Spanish name, became the word for powder magazine. [An interesting factoid.]

The lightning motif is still commonly used within the artillery community, Rachal Smith, the executive director for the U.S. Field Artillery Association told Marine Corps Times.

“Field artillery is often compared to lighting or thunder, a lot of your unit nicknames are lightning or thunder,” Smith said.

Whether it is the Army’s 7th Field Artillery Regiment known as First Lighting or the Corps’ 10th Marines, known as Thunder and Steel, St. Barbara has plenty of lighting and thunder to throw around these days.  [Well, that comment sort of bombed.]

The U.S. Field Artillery Association still hands out two awards, named for the saint to deserving members from the Army and Marine Corps’ field artillery community.

The Honorable Order of Saint Barbara is for, “highest standards of integrity and moral character; displayed an outstanding degree of professional competence; served the United States Army or Marine Corps Field Artillery with selflessness; and contributed to the promotion of the Field Artillery in ways that stand out in the eyes of the recipient’s seniors, subordinates and peers alike,” according to the organization’s website.

While the Ancient Order of Saint Barbara, “is reserved for an elite few whose long-term dedication to the Field Artillery has embodied the spirit, dignity and sense of sacrifice and commitment epitomized by Saint Barbara,” the website reads.

The Marine Corps’ 11th Marine Regiment still held a celebration on the saint’s day of Dec. 4, despite the ongoing pandemic.  [Oorah!]


In the past Marines have celebrated the day by having a field meet, which included batteries competing against each other with trebuchets. Ironically it’s an artillery piece that does not use gunpowder and does not have the protection of St. Barbara.


And there’s this... Some of the short videos will load automatically… some basics about the M777.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. anj says:

    I recall she also had her breasts cut off.

  2. Semper Gumby says:

    My cup runneth over: theology, the Honorable and Ancient Orders of St. Barbara (take that Freemasons), high explosives, the lads with a trebuchet and a radio antenna, and the Cobra Kai dojo with non-regulation yet impressive ’80s hair. Next year, we get the 11th Marines a few kegs of Birra Nursia.

    Nice mic drop about the traditional calendar Fr. Z. And congratulations on 15 years of the blog. Well done to the Marine Times writer and the 11th Marines- the King of Battle.

  3. PostCatholic says:

    > Actually, heresy is really the rejection or doubt of a core tenet of the Faith of the Catholic Church.

    I think–correct me if I’m wrong, as I know you will–that it’s Justin Martyr who is responsible for changing the meaning of haeresis from something akin to “school of thought” or “faction” to the definition you give, and also he who first used “orthodoxy” to distinguish his Christians from gnostics and Valentinians et al. So perhaps Barbara was a heretic in a then-contemporary sense of the word?


  4. xavier says:


    Just to provide a minor precision: in Spanish the santabarbra refers to the ship’s powder magazine. Same in French but that’s now an obsolete word.


  5. JonPatrick says:

    A few years ago, in happier times before the COVID “pandemic” that 99% of “cases” survive, when such trips were still possible, on a Church Militant “retreat at sea” we called at the port of Santa Barbara CA and had Mass at the old mission there which had been founded on St. Barbara’s feast day by the Spanish Franciscans. Her image still reigns over the altar at the old chapel, which also still retains its communion rails so we were able to receive kneeling and on the tongue as we should. The chapel and the grounds there are particularly beautiful and worth a visit, once one is allowed to again.

  6. Funny how we in the 20th and 21st centuries know better about who existed in ancient times than those who actually lived in or closer to those times.

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