Saint Barbara

Barbara, the patron saint of miners

Saint Barbara is the patron saint of miners.  She is among the 14 Holy Helpers of the Roman Catholic Church, the “Patron of Good Death”.

Saint Barbara is probably the longing of the miners for light, transferred from the Christian legend.  Since the Day of Saint Barbara is also celebrated in non-Catholic regions, its origin likely dates back to before the Reformation.  Even in Protestant areas St. Barbara has kept  her position despite the disapproval of the veneration of the saints.

St. Barbara Day

The “St. Barbara Day” is on December 4th.  In many families of our country the custom of the “Barbara branch” has been upheld.   On this day cherry tree sprigs are cut and placed in a vase filled with water close to the light.  After 21 days, exactly at Christmas, these branches blossom.  Before the “Christmas tree” was known more than 100 years ago in the Westerwald, the Barbara sprigs were regarded as a symbol of Christmas as well as Christmas decoration.  With their blossoms they symbolize the light and remind people that the spring sun, which will produce new flowers, is not far off.  Barbara altars and windows can be found in almost all the churches of the mining communities.

The Christian Legend

According to the Christian legend Barbara lived at the end of the 3rd century AD in Nicomedia, which is now known as Izmit in Turkey, and was the daughter of a rich, pagan businessman named Dioscuros.

Against her father’s will the pretty, young woman chose Christianity and was baptized.  Out of sheer anger over her dedication to the new religion, hated and revered by him, Dioscuros held Barbara captive in a tower in order to dissuade her from Christianity.  Neither the imprisonment nor the punishments inflicted on her by her father would persuade her against her choice; on the contrary, they strengthened her faith in Christianity.

Barbara managed to flee and hid in a rocky cliff, that opened and allowed her to hide.  This is how she became the patron saint of miners.  However, her refuge was betrayed, and out of sheer hatred Dioscuros condemned her and the governor of that time sentenced her to death.  Her own father beheaded her, but was then hit by a deadly bold of lightning.

Barbara celebrations as well as devotions on December 4th have become long-standing customs, particularly in mining regions.  On this day the miners commemorate their patron saint, St. Barbara.  Therefore, each year on Dec. 4th there is a quiet, solemn atmosphere in front of the “Erbstollen”of Copper Plate (drainage tunnels of copper plate), and one is grateful for the accident-free mining year and prays once again for protection.