Exhibiting Historical Art: Out of the Vault: Stories of People and Things

Saint Barbara: Legend

According various legends, Saint Barbara lived in either Heliopolis (in modern-day Lebanon) or Nicomedia (in modern-day Turkey) during the third century. She was the daughter of a pagan named Dioscorus who shut her in a tower to protect her beauty from suitors. While imprisoned, Barbara secretly took communion and converted to Christianity. During one of her father’s absences, she ordered workmen to install a third window in her tower, creating a symbol of the Holy Trinity. Upon his return, Dioscorus was so enraged at his daughter’s conversion that he drew his sword to kill her. Barbara was saved by a miracle and escaped to a mountaintop outside the city. Two shepherds nearby witnessed the miracle, but the second shepherd revealed Barbara's location to Dioscorus. As punishment, the second shepherd was turned to stone and his flock of sheep to locusts. 

After capturing his daughter, Dioscorus turned her over to the Roman authorities who relentlessly tortured her. During her torture, wounds inflicted on her miraculously healed and she was comforted by her faith. Unable to force her to rescind her faith, Roman authorities sentenced Barbara to execution. Dioscorus himself beheaded her, only to be subsequently struck down by a lightning bolt (or in some accounts fire from heaven). 

Saint Barbara's last wish was that the grace of Sacrament be bestowed on the dying at the moment of passing in honor of her martyrdom. Saint Barbara's tomb was said to be a place of miracles. 

Due to lack of evidence to verify Saint Barbara's legend, she was struck from the Catholic Church's calendar in 1969. 

This statue's journey from France was a tragic one. After it was purchased by the Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery from a seller in France in 1982, the piece was damaged during shipping due to improper packing and handling. Liability for the damage was never claimed, despite the Gallery's efforts to document the damage and contact the seller and shipping company. Damage to the statue is still visible, manifested in a crack in the left arm, missing structural elements at the top edges of the tower, and cracks on the tiara. 

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