Santa Barbara was a mythical Greek saint and martyr. She has quite a fanciful story.
Though no longer recognized by the Church, Santa Barbara is syncretized with Changó and Puerto Ricans love her. Changó is fierce and Santa Barbara represents fierce Puerto Rican women.
Feast of Santa Barbara
Her feast day is December 4 in commemoration of the traditional day when she was murdered by her father. The next feast is Monday, December 4, 2023.
She is the patroness of those who work in dangerous occupations with cannon and explosives. Armourers, artillery, engineers and miners love her.
According to legend, Saint Barbara was a real person in the third century. She was the daughter of a rich pagan. Her father kept her locked in a tower to protect her virginity. She secretly became a Christian and refused to her father’s demands to be married.
Before traveling, her dad built a bath house for her. She had three windows installed in it to represent the Holy Trinity. When her father returned, she admitted to being Christian.
Her father prepared to kill her, but prayers transported her through the tower wall into the mountains. Her father chased her and took her before the local administrator. He tortured and imprisoned her, but Saint Barbara kept her faith.
Strange things started happening around the prison. Her wounds would heal overnight. They tried to burn her alive, but the fires would go out.
Finally her father cut her head off. On the way home he was struck by lightning and his body caught fire. There are many more wild stories.
This is why she is worshiped by those whose work requires them to cheat death.
We are not sure why, but the California Mission of Santa Barbara and the city that grew up around it, are named after her. It’s the next town north of Metropolitan Los Angeles.
Symbols of Santa Barbara
You can usually recognize Saint Barbara by the three-windowed tower or bathhouse where she was imprisoned.
She is often represented with small chains and lightning bolts, palms, a chalice and the crown of martyrdom.
Syncretization with Changó
Santa Barbara is popular in Puerto Rico. I first thought it was because of the fortresses in Old San Juan. It’s actually because the faithful of the Yoruba religion (called Santería by the Spaniards) syncretized Changó, the orisha (saint or angel) of thunder and lightning with her.
When Ismael Miranda sang with Larry Harlow’s orchestra in Abran Paso (Make Way, 1972)…
Abran paso ~ Make way
Cosa buena, abreme paso mamá ~ Good things, open to me
Que yo vengo bien caliente ~ I come hot and ready
con Santa Barbara a mi lado ~ with Saint Barbara at my side
con su cepa y con su espada ~ with her force and her sword
para aliviarle de todo mal ~ to relieve you of all evil
…he was singing in code that he comes with the power of Changó to heal. You can watch the young Miranda singing with the Orquesta Harlow in The Bronx in 1971. Notice the very circular Caribbean style Salsa dancing.