History of Saint Barbara
One of the earliest known Christian martyrs, Barbara lived in Nicomedia (Turkey) around the third century. She lived during the Roman Empire, which was still a pagan society requiring emperor worship. Tradition relates that her father was a prominent man in the Roman government, and that he had a tower constructed to isolate her from the world, perhaps to protect her from unwanted suitors.
An intelligent young woman with a keen mind, Barbara observed the organization and pattern of movement of the stars and tides from her windows, and deduced that there must be a Creator more powerful than the impotent pagan idols, which adorned her father’s house. While in confinement, she became a convert to Christianity, and had her father’s workman add a third window to her tower to represent the Holy Trinity.
When her father returned from a long business trip and found out that she had become a Christian, he became enraged and beheaded her with his own sword. He was struck by lightning and killed. She was one of the earliest known martyrs of the Church.
Saint Barbara’s story holds some unique coincidences with the city that bears her name.
Barbara as Patron Saint
Because St. Barbara is identified by her famous stone tower with the three windows constructed at her request, she is regarded as the patron saint of architects, builders, and stone masons. For a resort such as Santa Barbara, renown for its architecture past and present, and graced by miles of magnificent hand cut stone walls, the symbol of St. Barbara is wonderfully fitting.
Because St. Barbara’s tower overlooked the ocean where she could watch the changing tides and observe the movements of the moon and stars, Saint Barbara has also been the patron saint of sailors. This would make her an appropriate patron for a seaside city with more than a century of commercial fishing and recreational boating.
St. Barbara Protectress
St. Barbara has been regarded as the protectress against “sudden death” — which has traditionally been held as death by lightning, fire, flood, and earthquake. Although Santa Barbara has been frequented by these natural disasters, remarkably few deaths have been ascribed to our major fires, floods, and earthquakes (less than 20 in two centuries!).
When gunpowder was invented, Barbara was called upon as intercessor to protect artillery men (from sudden death). For this reason, the section of battleships which hold the weapons, are referred to as the “santa barbara” or the “saint barbara” in the western world. Intriguingly, no major military encounters were ever fought in Santa Barbara, although it was one of the four military fortresses of alta California. Fremont and the Americans took over the city without firing a shot.
Santa Barbara is unique among California cities in that its patron saint is regularly portrayed in community pageants for more than one hundred years. Annually a representative from the Native Daughters of the Golden West, Reina Del Mar Parlor 126, (an organization involved with the preservation of California history), selects a member to portray the Saint Barbara at various Fiesta activities. Saint Barbara makes appearances at La Fiesta Pequeña and Las Noches de Ronda. She also rides in El Desfile Histórico on a float that has been sponsored by the Native Daughters chapter since 1926.