St John Damascene, St Barbara

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Theologian and hymn writer. St John was born in Damascus around 675. He was the son of an important Christian official at the court of the Kalif Abdul Malek. He is said to have been educated by a Greek monk from Calabria who had been taken prisoner by the Moslems. John succeeded his father's post and filled it for several years.

When the Emperor Leo II ordered sacred Christian images and statues to be destroyed, the Moslem Kalif protected John and allowed him to write in their defence. The use of religious images was valid, he said, because they helped people to understand their faith better. Around this time, John became a monk and priest at the monastery of Mar Saba in the mountain wilderness between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. He lived there until his death.

He was one of the leading religious writers of his day. The most important of his works the Fount of Knowledge, part of which is a digest of Christian doctrine which was used in the West in the Middle Ages. Three surviving sermons are about the Assumption of Our Lady. His hymns are still sung in the Greek liturgy. St John Damascene was made a Doctor of the Church in 1890.

and St Barbara

Known in the Eastern Orthodox Church as the Great Martyr Barbara, she was an early Christian saint and martyr. Accounts place her in the 3rd century in Nicomedia, present-site Turkey or in Heliopolis in Egypt. There is no reference to her in the authentic early Christian writings, nor in the original recension of Saint Jerome's martyrology. Her name can be traced to the 7th century, and veneration of her was common, especially in the East, from the 9th century. Because of doubts about the historicity of her legend, she was removed from the liturgical calendar of the Roman Rite in 1969 in Pope Paul VI's motu proprio Mysterii Paschalis.

Saint Barbara is often portrayed with miniature chains and a tower. As one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, Barbara continues to be a popular saint in modern times, perhaps best known as the patron saint of armourers, artillerymen, military engineers, miners and others who work with explosives because of her old legend's association with lightning, and also of mathematicians. Many of the thirteen miracles in a 15th-century French version of her story turn on the security she offered that her devotees would not die without making confession and receiving extreme unction.

Workers on the massive Crosrail line under construction in London refused to work the tunnels until statues of St Barbara were blessed and installed at each station entrance.

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