Saint Barbara Pilgrim Badge
Mediumetched copper alloy
DimensionsWork : 1 1/8 x 1 1/8 x 1/8 in. (2.86 cm x 2.86 cm x 3 mm)
Credit LineHope College Collection
LabelIn medieval Europe, it was common for Christian pilgrims to collect badges or tokens at the sacred places they visited as a way to commemorate their journey and publicly demonstrate their faith. This badge bearing an image of Saint Barbara was probably made to commemorate a medieval pilgrim’s visit to Halesowen Abbey in England, which in the 14th and 15th centuries claimed to possess the relic of Saint Barbara’s head. Because Saint Barbara was said to protect people from sudden death, her relic at Halesowen Abbey became an especially popular pilgrimage destination during outbreaks of the Black Death that occurred regularly in England from 1348 through the end of the 17th century.
Legend says that Saint Barbara was the daughter of a wealthy 3rd-century Phoenician nobleman named Discorus who, as Barbara approached marriageable age, kept her locked in a tower in order to preserve her virginity. Despite her isolation, Barbara converted to Christianity and vowed to dedicate her life to God rather than marry her father’s choice of husband. When her father had a bathhouse built next to her tower, Barbara convinced the builder to install three windows in the structure to symbolize her devotion to the Holy Trinity. Discorus was enraged by his daughter’s commitment to her faith and threatened to kill her, but she escaped and led him on a long chase through the mountains. When Barbara was finally captured, she was taken before the local Roman prefect who tortured her to make her renounce her faith. Her faith remained strong, however, and her injuries were miraculously healed. The Roman official eventually sentenced Barbara to death and the execution was carried out by her own father, who was immediately struck and killed by divine lightning. Barbara’s body was buried by local Christians and her tomb soon became the site of many miracles. She was elevated to sainthood by local church leaders, and in the 6th century Barbara’s remains were taken to Constantinople where they stayed until the 12th century, when her relics were moved again and ended up dispersed among various religious institutions across Christendom. This badge depicts Saint Barbara with her typical iconographic attributes, standing beside a tower and holding a palm frond to signify her status as a virgin martyr.