Thursday, December 4, 2008

St. Barbara's Tower of Dour

Today is the feast day of St. Barbara, Patroness of Architects. And she's also the patron of the city where I an architect. So, as you might guess, I have a devotion to the beautiful young martyr.

While she very likely didn't exist, being rather a figment of pious fiction, her story is completely believable and is, in any event, worth following as an example of sacrifice and devotion to the Truth.

Barbara was born in the late 3rd century in Asia Minor near Nicomedia. She was the daughter of a wealthy Roman named Dioscorus. By all accounts, she was incredibly beautiful and very intelligent, and her over-protective father kept her shut up in a tower in order to preserve her from being drawn to one beneath her (his perceived) dignity. She was offered release from the tower on the condition that she marry the man her father recommended, but she refused.

Before going on a long journey, her father commanded that Barbara be instructed in Philosophy and the Liberal Arts. Her instructors Origen and Valentinian-- who were, unbeknownst to Dioscorus, both Christian-- helped her see the truth of monotheism and the triune God. Barbara secretly converted, and with much zeal. During Dioscorus's absence Barbara had workmen increase the number of windows in her tower from two to three, a symbol used as a way to contemplate and worship the Holy Trinity. It is for this reason that she is the patroness of architects. When her father returned and noticed the change in the tower, he questioned her motives. Upon her acknowledgment that she had become a Christian, he first tried to beat it out of her for fear that her embrace of Christianity would reflect on his household, and that he would in turn lose his status with the prefect. The tact of corporal punishment having not succeeded, Dioscorus cowardly dragged her before the prefect of the province, Martinianus, who had her even more cruelly tortured and finally condemned her to death by beheading. Dioscorus himself carried out the death-sentence, in the hopes that this would prove to Martinianus that he did not embrace the faith his daughter did. While returning home, he was struck by lightning, or by other accounts, consumed by fire in a fit of spontaneous combustion.

Barbara is almost ubiquitously represented in art holding a tower with three windows, symbolizing her love for the Trinity. Sometimes there is a cannon in the background representing her patronage of artillery men (by extension of the tower, which is often used for military purposes), and there is often stormy skies in the background, with sunlight piercing through. She always holds a palm branch to symbolize her martyrdom. Barbara is one of the 14 HOLY HELPERS.

On December 3, 1602-- the eve of St. Barbara's feast day--Sebastian Vizcaino was sailing north from Baja California when his ships were caught in a violent storm. Praying to St. Barbara for safety (Because her father was killed by lightning, she became the patroness of safety from storms, and then sailors. See her many, many other patronages HERE), Vizcaino promised that if his ships survived the storm he would found a city in her honor. Finding a small natural harbor, he did survive the storm, and then 'founded' the city of Santa Barbara (which already had several thousand natives living there).

Above is a sketch painting I did of a tile mural found in the Four Seasons Biltmore in Santa Barbara. It represents an early map of the city, in 1798, just after the founding of the Mission. Click on it to see a larger version.


Rich Marotti said...


I love this post and the sketch. Where can I buy the limited edition print?

The Vitruvian Duck said...


I'm glad you liked it. Thanks. Prints are available for any of my sketches, and almost all of my paintings. (Some are in private collection and 'no prints' were part of the contract.) Commissions for original art or portraits are also gladly accepted.

Just let me know how big of a print you're thinking of, and I'll give you a very reasonable quote for a high quality, archival GicleƩ print. (shoot me an email if you like).