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December 24, 2012December 24, 2012  0 comments  Christian Communities

Located on a hill facing the mixed Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Protestant and Muslim Palestinian village of Abud (pop. 2,200) 22 km northwest of Ramallah lie the extensive ruins of the sixth century monastery of Saint Barbara. Every year on the saint's day known in Arabic as Eid el-Burbara, (December 17 in the Gregorian calendar and December 4 in the Julian calendar of the Eastern Orthodox Church), local villagers and Christians from across the West Bank come here to venerate their holy patron. Traditionally they enjoy a sweet pudding known as burbara - made from shelled kernels of wheat seasoned with sugar, cinnamon, fennel and anis, and decorated with seedless raisins.

Saint Barbara the virgin is not recorded in St. Jerome's (340-420) martyrology, and the facts concerning her are disputed. During the sixth century, a Byzantine church was built here in her honor. In the 9th century legendary miracles ascribed to St. Barbara were included in the collection of Symeon Metaphrastes. According to both local folklore in Abud and the written narratives by church historians, she was the daughter of a wealthy Roman named Dioscorus. Local lore has it that she fell in love with an early Christian and converted in secrecy. Her pagan father had her put to death when she refused to recant her new faith.

In the Westernized version of this story, her father first imprisoned her in a tower with two windows, which she miraculously converted to three as a symbol of the trinity. According to legend, Dioscorus was struck by lightning after beheading his daughter. She was executed along with her Christian friend Juliana, who also joined the ranks of martyrs.

The site of Barbara's martyrdom is disputed. According to one legend, she was executed in Heliopolis, today Baalbek, Lebanon. Other sources cite Nicomedia, today Izmit near Istanbul, in modern Turkey. Because of doubts about the historicity of the legend, in 1969 Pope Paul VI removed her saints day from the Roman Catholic Church's liturgical calendar.

As result of Dioscorus's death by lightening, St. Barbara is often associated with protection from thunderstorms, fire, sudden death and later by analogy, as the protector of artillerymen and miners. When gunpowder was introduced in the Western world, Saint Barbara was invoked as the protector from accidental explosions.

American marines and artillery soldiers are eligible for membership in the Order of Saint Barbara. Powder storage rooms in French warships are called Sainte-Barbe.

Local tradition states that Abud's townsfolk received their faith directly from Jesus. Ruins of the Messiah Church mark the locale where Jesus is said to have preached. Close to the village is the Roman road that the Holy Family would have used when traveling between the Galilee and Jerusalem. Abud's Orthodox shrine was built in the 4th century during the reign of Constantine - the Roman emperor who turned the pagan empire into the Christian Byzantine Empire. The capitals of its columns bear images of crosses and palm branches. The remains of nine ancient churches are scattered in and around the village.

Villagers consider St. Barbara's Monastery the most important. The shrine was in use until May 31, 2002 when the IDF, unaware of its significance, blew up the church by mistake during the second Palestinian uprising. It has since been rebuilt.

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Gil Zohar is a Jeruslaem based journalist and tour guide and writes regularly for Travelujah-Holy Land tours. 


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