According to legend, Saint Barbara was the extremely beautiful daughter of a wealthy man named Dioscorus, who lived near Nicimedia in Asia Minor. Because of her singular beauty and fearful that she be demanded in marriage and taken away from him, he jealously shut her up in a tower to protect her from the outside world. Shortly before embarking on a long journey Dioscorus commissioned a sumptuous bathhouse to be built for Barbara. Dioscorus approved the plans for the structure before leaving. Barbara had heard of the teachings of Christ and while her father was on his journey she spent much time in contemplation. From the windows in her tower she looked out upon the surrounding countryside and marveled at the growing things; trees, the animals and the people. She decided that all of this must be of a master plan and the idols of wood and stone her parents worshiped must be condemned as false. Gradually she came to accept the Christian faith. As her belief became firm she directed the builders to redesign the bathhouse that her father had planned. She added a third window so that they could symbolize the Holy Trinity. When her father returned from his journey he was enraged at the changes and infuriated when Barbara acknowledged that she was a Christian. He brought her in front of the perfect of the providence who decreed that she be tortured and then put to death by beheading. Dioscorus himself carried out the death sentence. On his way home he was struck by lightening and his body consumed by fire.
Saint Barbara lived and died about 300 AD. She was venerated as early as the seventh century. The legend of the lighting bolt that struck down her persecutor caused her to be regarded as the patron saint in time of danger from thunderstorms, fires and sudden death. When gunpowder made its appearance in the Western world, Saint Barbara was invoked for aid against accidents resulting in explosions. This was especially important because early artillery pieces often blew up instead of firing their projectile. Saint Barbara then became the patroness of artilleryman.
Saint Barbara is usually represented standing by a tower with three windows and she is carrying the palm of a martyr in her hand. Often also she is holding a chalice and a sacramental wafer. In the background is usually a cannon. In the present day calendar the feast of St. Barbara falls on December 4 and traditionally recognized by a formal Dining-In or Military dinner. Often these dinners involve the presentation of the Order of Saint Barbara. The Order of Saint Barbara is an honorary military society of the United States Field Artillery. Both the U.S. Marines and the Army field artillery along with their military and civilian supporters are eligible for membership. The U.S. Field Artillery Association manages the order and two levels of recognition exist. The most distinguished level is the Ancient Order of Saint Barbara and those who are selected for this honor have achieved long-term, exceptional service to the field artillery surpassing even their brethren in the Honorable Order of Saint Barbara. The order links field artillerymen of the past and present in a brotherhood of professionalism, selfless service and sacrifice symbolized by Saint Barbara.
(Thanks to Scott Gutzke from Battery B 4th U.S. for use of this article)