Above, from left to right: Saint Barbara (detail), mid-15th century, French, Gift of Mr. Edward G. Sparrow, 1950 (50.159); Detail of Saint Barbara from The Virgin Mary and Five Standing Saints above Predella Panels, 1440–46, The Cloisters Collection, 1937 (37.52.1); Saint Barbara (detail), ca. 1490, German, The Cloisters Collection, 1955 (55.166).
Although Saint Barbara is not mentioned in early martyrologies, hagiographies place the early Christian virgin and martyr in the third century A.D. According to The Golden Legend, a popular collection of saints’ lives dating to the thirteenth century, she was martyred on the fifth of December, during the reign of Emperor Maximianus and under the orders of Martianus, the prefect of her city of Heliopolis, in Phoenicia. Veneration of Saint Barbara was common in both the eastern and western churches by the ninth century, and she remains a popular saint to this day, although her feast is widely celebrated on the fourth rather than the fifth of December. Read more »