Because St. Barbara is the Patron Saint of Artillery

Because St. Barbara is the Patron Saint of Artillery December 5, 2011

Yes, yesterday was Sunday but you know what else it was? It was the Feast of St. Barbara. As a former member of November Battery, 5th Battalion, 14th Marines, let me tell you something: This is a feast day celebrated throughout the entire US Armed Forces in the Artillery Community. Knowing that, doesn’t this prayer intention make more sense?

St. Barbara, please intercede for us, and guide us, not only in times of danger of fire destroying our physical bodies, but more importantly for those times when our souls are in danger of eternal fire. Amen.

We at N, 5/14 knew how to party in St. Barbara’s honor! I was even awarded a Navy Achievement Medal by my commanding officer for putting together two stellar Marine Corps Birthday Ball celebrations (two years back-to-back), signed by the Secretary of the Navy and everything. I can’t make that up (because frankly, it’s too embarrassing)! The last Birthday Ball I organized, I was still on convalescent leave recovering from injuries sustained in the line of duty. Oh, we know how to celebrate longstanding traditions in the Corps! Much in the same way we celebrate them in the Catholic Church.

And this one isn’t some rinky-dink, little celebration either. The day is celebrated with pomp and pageantry, and a little revelry after the main ceremonies are concluded. Often times, this day is celebrated with a formal dining-in ceremony, with officers and troops attending in their dress uniforms. The Field Artillery Association has written a 36-page manual containing four Chapters (with eleven appendices) choreographing the proper way to celebrate this Feast Day. Like I said, this isn’t something we do half-cocked!

The Order of St. Barbara, a Medallion with a scarlet ribbon is presented (see photograph above) to a gentleman or lady who has performed in a manner that brings credit on themselves and the Field Artillery. The medallion is authorized to be worn with the uniform on this day by recipients past and present, even though it is not an official medal (awarded for gallantry or faithful service).

Below is the legend of Saint Barbara as given on the U. S. Field Artillery Association’s website, which will be read to all in attendance at this fine celebration. Three cheers for St. Barbara!

According to legend, Saint Barbara was the extremely beautiful daughter of a wealthy heathen named Dioscorus, who lived near Nicomedia in Asia Minor. Because of her singular beauty and fearful that she be demanded in marriage and taken away from him, he jealously shut her up in a tower to protect her from the outside world.

Shortly before embarking on a journey, he commissioned a sumptuous bathhouse to be built for her, approving the design before he departed. Barbara had heard of the teachings of Christ, and while her father was gone spent much time in contemplation. From the windows of her tower she looked out upon the surrounding countryside and marveled at the growing things; the trees, the animals and the people. She decided that all these must be part of a master plan, and that the idols of wood and stone worshipped by her parents must be condemned as false. Gradually she came to accept the Christian faith.

As her belief became firm, she directed that the builders redesign the bathhouse her father had planned, adding another window so that the three windows might symbolize the Holy Trinity.

When her father returned, he was enraged at the changes and infuriated when Barbara acknowledged that she was a Christian. He dragged her before the prefect of the province, who decreed that she be tortured and put to death by beheading. Dioscorus himself carried out the death sentence. On his way home he was struck by lightening and his body consumed.

Saint Barbara lived and died about the year 300 A.D. She was venerated as early as the seventh century. The legend of the lightning bolt which struck down her persecutor caused her to be regarded as the patron saint in time of danger from thunderstorms, fires and sudden death.

When gunpowder made its appearance in the Western world, Saint Barbara was invoked for aid against accidents resulting from explosions–since some of the earlier artillery pieces often blew up instead of firing their projectile, Saint Barbara became the patroness of the artillerymen.

Saint Barbara is usually represented standing by a tower with three windows, carrying the palm of a martyr in her hand. Often, too, she holds a chalice and a sacramental wafer and sometimes cannon are displayed near her.

In the present calendars, the feast of Saint Barbara falls on December 4th and is traditionally recognized by a formal Dining-In or military dinner, often involving presentation of the Order of Saint Barbara.

And here is an explanation of the medallion presentation for The Order of Saint Barbara:

The Order of Saint Barbara is an honorary military society of the United States Field Artillery. Both U.S. Marine and Army field artillery along with their military and civilian supporters are eligible for membership. The order is managed by the U.S. Field Artillery Association and two levels of recognition exist.

The most distinguished level is the Ancient Order of Saint Barbara and those who are selected for this honor have achieved long-term, exceptional service to the field artillery surpassing even their brethren in the Honorable Order of Saint Barbara.

The order links field artillerymen of the past and present in a brotherhood of professionalism, selfless service and sacrifice symbolized by Saint Barbara.

And you thought only mendicant orders of the Church celebrate feast days like this? Haha, the Marines have landed and the situation is well in hand on December 4 (and any other day of the year for that matter)!

Here is how we few, privileged artillerymen ask St. Barbara to pray for us during this ceremony, and during operations as well:

Prayer to Saint Barbara

Oh God, who among the other miracles of Your power,
have given the victory of martyrdom,
grant, we beseech You,
that we, who are celebrating the heavenly Blessed St. Barbara,
Your Virgin and Martyr,
may by her example draw nearer to you.


Pomp & Circumstance, Marine Corps (and Army) style! And on that note, Go Navy! Beat Army!

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