Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Friday, 4 December 2020

Commemorating St Barbara

Today is the Feast of St Barbara. 

As a saint accorded liturgical honours she was a casualty of the 1969 revision of the Roman Calendar, although she survives in the EF, and in the devotions of artillery men. Her sidelining in 1969 led to her making a guest appearance in Robertson Davies’ short story “Refuge for Insulted Saints” which is included in his High Spirits - an entertaining collection of numerous ghost stories in the tradition of M.R.James, which I do recommend as suitable seasonal reading.

My interest in St Barbara stems partly from regretting her modern demotion, from having a relative with the name and from the fact that when I was writing my history of the church of St Thomas the Martyr here in Oxford I found that the earliest known bell there had been dedicated to St Barbara.

The Wikipedia article about her and her cult appears to have been extensively revised and extended and it repays reading. It can be found at Saint Barbara

File:Wilhelm Kalteysen - Saint Barbara Altarpiece - Google Art Project.jpg

The St Barbara Altarpiece
Now in the National Museum in Warsaw it was painted circa 1447 for St Barbara’s Church in Breslau by Wilhelm Kalteysen ( c.1420-96 ). The wings of what was once a polyptych were lost in the Second World War.
Image: Wikipedia 

I also found the answer to a little query in my mind as to medieval dedications to her in
England. There is a twentieth century parish church of St Barbara at Earlsdon near Coventry and Royal Artillery chapels, but there is at least one medieval church under her joint patronage. That is at Haceby in Lincolnshire

A stone church seen from the southeast, showing the chancel, beyond which is the nave with a clerestory, a south aisle and a porch, beyond which is a tower with a plain parapet

Haceby Church
Image: Wikipedia 

The church of St Barbara and St Margaret - St Margaret was also a casualty of the 1969 calendrists - is now vested in the Churches Conservation Trust having been declared redundant in 1973. There is an account of this Kesteven church at St Barbara's Church, Haceby

The Wikipedia article shows how widespread has been the extent of devotion to St Barbara in both Catholic and Orthodox communions, in the old world and the new. Of her various churches listed I would particularly draw attention to the extraordinary late medieval church, finally completed in the late nineteenth cerntury, in the historic Bohemian silver mining centre at St. Barbara's Church, Kutná Hora

Sedlec Ossuary: Skeletons, Monks and a Church

Church of St Barbara Kutna Hora
Image: Prague-now.com

St Barbara Pray for us 

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