RIO OF ALL SAINTS: SAINT BARBARA

On December 4th the Christian communities of the world celebrate the Day of Saint Barbara, besides the birthday of my dear son João Paulo.

Maybe the first thing that comes to the mind of a carioca when told about this martyr name is the long tunnel that links the neighborhoods of Catumbi and Laranjeiras, shorting the distances between the North and the South zones of the city. The Saint Barbara Tunnel had its construction initiated in 1947, but it was only officially inaugurated in April 1964, after a series of setbacks.

One of these setbacks was the great landslide that took place during the construction, abbreviating the lives of 18 workers.

But what all this has to do with Rio´s architectonic heritage? Well, it is told that the landslide has formed an immense cave above the tunnel, and someone came with the idea of building a chapel in memory of those 18 unfortunate men. A huge tile panel was then installed, made by the Brazilian artist Djanira da Motta e Silva (1914-1979) – better known by her first name only. It is the picture of this tile panel that illustrates today´s post.[1]

According to the Wikipedia, Barbara was born during the year of 280 in Nicomedia (present Izmit, in Turkey).[2] She is venerated by the Orthodox, the Anglican and the Roman Catholic churches.

The legend stands that she was incarcerated inside a tower by her father Dioscorus to avoid her conversion to Christianism. This same father, while attempting to punish her, was immediately fulminated by a lightning. These facts explain why general iconography represents Saint Barbara standing along with a tower, but she has also as attributes the lightning, the palm, the crown, the sword, a peacock feather, the host over a ciborium (chalice), a cannon, a bullet. In Portugal and Brazil, her devotion became very popular; she is always invoked to protect people against storms, lightning and thunders.

According to Jorge Campos Tavares in his excellent Dicionário de Santos (Dictionary of Saints), she is the patron saint of gunners and those who produce fireworks, besides those who work with explosives – thus explaining the reason why she was remembered when naming the carioca tunnel. Saint Barbara is also the patron of the incarcerated, the bricklayers, the architects, the bell ringers, the weavers and the hatters.

Due to the high humidity, the panel began to deteriorate very quickly, forcing the FUNARJ[3] to remove it from the chapel in 1985. After a long restoration, it never got back to its original site, and presently the Saint Barbara tile panel is kept by the National Museum of Fine Arts (MNBA), in Rio Branco Avenue, Downtown Rio.

P.S., 1: Topazios Street, in the carioca neighbourhood of Rocha Miranda, has a church devoted to Saint Barbara. Also, in the city of Niterói, inside the Fortress of Santa Cruz da Barra, stands the Chapel of Saint Barbara, an architectonic seventeenth century jewel, constructed under absolutely original lines!

P.S., 2: in Brazilian religious syncretism, Saint Barbara is Iansã to the African religions of Candomble and Umbanda.


[1] I have photographed this work of art a few years ago, but since I can´t find the image on my computer anymore, I turned to the Wikimedia Commons, where I got this one, from the photographer Dornicke, which in addition informs us that the panel has 5300 tiles over an area of 130 square meters. Thanks!

[2] Other versions of her birth include Tuscany, Rome, Baalbek and others.

[3] FUNARJ (Fundação de Artes do Estado do Rio de Janeiro) is the government entity responsible for the promotion of Arts and Culture in the State of Rio de Janeiro.

um comentário

  1. Obrigada. Ótimo post! 

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