St. Margaret of Antioch: She is known as the Great Martyr, the Vanquisher of Demons, and is counted among the Fourteen Holy Helpers

St. Margaret of Antioch                                                          gettyimages

By Larry Peterson

She was only fifteen years of age when she died, and many stories have been attributed to her short life. What is factual is this: St. Margaret of Antioch is a saint in the Roman Catholic Church and is listed in the Roman Martyrology. Her feast day is on July 20. She is also honored in the Eastern Orthodox Rite, where she is referred to as St. Marina, the Great Martyr. She is the patroness of pregnant women and those in childbirth. So who was this teenage saint, and what parts of her life are fact and what are fiction?

According to writings in the Golden Legend  (a text of over 1000 manuscripts about different saints that was published in the 13th century) Margaret was born at the beginning of the fourth century in Antioch. She was the daughter of a pagan priest named Aedesius, and her mom died shortly after Margaret was born. Her father allowed a Christian woman who lived nearby to nurse her and care for her. When Margaret was old enough, she converted to Christianity and took a vow of virginity. Her father disowned her, and her mistress adopted her.

When Margaret was around fifteen years old, she was out in the fields watching the flocks that belonged to her mistress. A Roman prefect by the name of Olybrius had been watching her. He was attracted to her and filled with lustful thoughts. He began a quest to make her his wife. He tried to charm her, cajole her, and then began to threaten her in an effort to win her over. She adamantly refused.

As the Golden Legend states, what follows should be considered apocryphal (of doubtful authenticity and not to be taken seriously). Olybrius had Margaret taken prisoner and demanded she denounce her Christian faith and adore his pagan gods. She refused and was made to stand trial in public.  Threatened with death, she still refused.  They tried to burn her, but the flames did not harm her. Then she was thrown into a cauldron of boiling water, but as she prayed, the boiling water did not harm her at all. When this happened, many of the people watching this spectacle immediately converted to Christianity.

The story continues that Margaret was put in prison, and while waiting for her sentence to be announced, she prayed to Jesus for strength. This infuriated Satan who appeared in the form of a dragon and he swallowed her. But she was wearing a cross, and it proved to be an antidote to the evil one. The cross burned the insides of the dragon, and he spit her out. She appeared before the prefect unharmed, unscathed, and still as defiant as ever. Olybrius gave up and had her beheaded.

As with many of the pre-congregation saints who lived during the early years of the church Margaret was real and was a devout Christian. As with many of the early saints there is apocryphal legend associated with their stories. However, we should remember that in Margaret’s case, she gained great popularity in England during the 13th century. Today there are more than 250 churches in England that are dedicated to her including St. Margaret’s Westminister, the parish church of the British Houses of Parliament.

Margaret of Antioch is also among those counted in the group of saints known as the Fourteen Holy Helpers. This group of saints is venerated together because their intercession is very effective against different diseases. St. Margaret is the patroness of those in childbirth, those who are pregnant, and those with kidney disease. The childbirth patronage is because of Margaret’s encounter with  Satan appearing as the dragon to her.

How can we not love the rich and yes, even apocryphal history, of our Catholic Church. No matter what direction these stories may take, they invariably always lead to GOODNESS.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2019

Saint Barbara; raised a Pagan, her Reasoning led her to Discover her Creator

St. Barbara; Martyr:   One of the Fourteen Holy Helpers               

By Larry Peterson

St. Barbara was born sometime in the middle of the 3rd century in a place called Heliopolis, a city which today would be located somewhere in Lebanon. Barbara’s pagan father was a rich and influential man, and his name was Dioscorus.

As Barbara grew, she became more and more beautiful. When her mother passed away, her father became fixated on Barbara and began devoting himself to her in an ever-increasing and overbearing manner. He decided to hide her from anyone who did not know her.

Dioscorus built a tower for his daughter, and only her pagan teachers and servants were allowed to see her. Barbara did have a view of the surrounding woodlands and would stare at the flowers in the meadows and the running streams. She began to wonder where they came from. Her reasoning helped her to realize that there must be a First Cause for such order and beauty.

It followed that Barbara’s reasoning would take her to realize that the idols her father and the pagans worshipped were soulless and possessed no power. She knew these ‘things’ could not have created the world she could see. A desire swelled within her to know the real Creator of the world. She decided to spend her life in a state of virginity and to find this Creator.

Word of the beautiful young woman spread throughout the city, and many came to ask for her hand in marriage. Her father wanted her to marry someone he chose. She begged him to let her live her own life and told him that his persistence would drive them apart.

Dioscorus did not listen. But he did decide that his keeping her locked in a tower may have caused her to reject a different lifestyle. He proceeded to give her permission to leave the tower giving her freedom to choose her friends. Barbara headed into the city and met some young maidens. These ladies taught her about God and creation and the Blessed Trinity.

Soon after (and, many believe it was God’s grace) a priest from Alexandria, disguised as a merchant, arrived in Heliopolis. He spent time with Barbara instructing her in the Christian faith. Soon she was baptized, and after that, the priest returned to his own country.

Dioscorus wanted his daughter back home, so he decided to build her a beautiful house of her own with a huge bathhouse within.  He ordered the bathhouse to have two windows, but Barbara asked the workers to put in three. She wanted them to represent the Blessed Trinity. She also carved a cross into the marble wall near the windows.

Her father was angry at the window being added, and when Barbara explained why she had done it and how she had become a Christian believing in the Triune God, Dioscorus was enraged. He grabbed his sword and was about to strike her with it, but she managed to run away.

He chased after her but she managed to reach a hill that had a small cave in the side of it, and she hid inside. Her father, unrelenting, tracked her down, found her,  and dragged her from the cave. He handed her over to Matrianus, who was the head of the local authorities. Barbara was beaten again and again and during her torment prayed continually for courage and strength.

Finally, after being beaten and tortured and still refusing to give in to her father’s demands, Dioscorus took his daughter out to a field, and with his sword, beheaded his own child. On the way back to the compound he was struck by a bolt of lightning, and his body was devoured by flames.

St. Barbara died in the late third century. Much of what we know about her comes from the book called the Golden  Legend (Legenda Sanctorum) written and compiled by Jacobus de Varagine. His work was the primary source for acquiring information about many saints and was used up until the Protestant Reformation when the “new learning” took hold in theology.

St. Barbara is among those who are called the Fourteen Holy Helpers  (Aleteia; July 2017) and her protection is sought against lightning, fire, and explosions.  Her feast day, shared with others, (including St, Peter Chrysologus and St. John Damascene)  is December 4th.

St. Barbara, please pray for us.

©Larry Peterson 2018