XVI – St. Barbara – The Tower

Saint Barbara is another Saint who was deemed a myth and thus removed from the Church calendar in 1968. Her story has always reminded me of the story of Perseus and Danae in Greek mythology, so that’s my opinion of where she came from.

Her story is that her father shut her up in a tower to discourage her suitors as she was a great beauty. Or she was imprisoned for disobedience, accounts vary. Either before or while entrapped there, she became a Christian, and had workers build three windows to represent the Trinity, which enraged her father who was a rich Greek pagan. He tried to kill her and there are several accounts of miracles that allowed her to escape. He then had her tortured and more stories appear of her beheading and the lightning from heaven that struck her father dead after he killed her. All very bloodthirsty, much like a fairy tale. It reminds me of the story of Rapunzel a bit too and seems very imaginative and archetypal.

These stories rolled along for centuries and Barbara had quite a cult by the 9th century. The Church discounted all this because there is no mention of her in early historical documents. I’m betting on the romance of mythology for inspiration of the legend. People often tried to merge old beliefs and stories with Christianity.

Apart from that what can be said? I love this particular illustration of Robert Place’s, he really is a fine artist. He equates her story with the origins of this card as the House of the Devil hit by lightning. It seems natural given the symbolism that her legend be associated with this or even be the inspiration for original the tarot card, although I don’t believe that myself. Place sometimes projects a bit too much of his personal conjecture onto history, which is why I got rid of his book on tarot history.

But he’s done a bang-up job on depicting St. Barbara. I love the composition and colours, it’s one of my favourite pieces of art in the deck.


St. Elizabeth – Queen of Coins

This is St. Elizabeth of Hungary, the daughter of the King of Hungary in the early 13th century. Her mother was German and was murdered by Hungarian nobles in what is described as a hate crime. Elizabeth was a serious and pious child who happily married at the age of 14 and had three children. She wanted to spread her happiness through charity. She funded hospitals, orphanages, and personally took an interest in the poor and sick, often ministering to them herself. As a princess, she had her own family money that she used for charity.

Coins, otherwise known as Pentacles: this Queen has always meant a mother archetype to me as opposed to The Empress who other people feel is the mother in tarot. Elizabeth thought of others instead of herself and spent her life committed to the welfare of others, much like a mother. She sewed clothes for people and baked bread for them, some stories have her going fishing to get food for people. I wonder if losing her mother at an early age made her more mindful of care for others? My own mother was like that.

Her husband Ludwig, who was always supportive of her charity, died of the plague during a crusade, and her brother used that as an excuse to kick her out of her home, and took over the handling of her money so that she couldn’t give it away. Apart from losing her home and autonomy, Elizabeth felt the joy had gone out of her life with the death of her husband.

There are some stories of her joining the third order of St. Francis, where the man who was her confessor, Conrad of Marburg, bullied and made her fearful, even physically abused her with corporal punishment. He was an experienced papal inquisitor in cases of heresy so his reputation might have come down through history influenced by people’s attitude toward that, but he was a severe fellow, and I get the feeling he took a personal dislike to Elizabeth and used his position simply to bully her. He was apparently harsh with himself too, but his wild accusations and fanaticism eventually got him murdered. An act which few seem to have been sorry about, he was so unpleasant.

Yet Elizabeth was obedient and humble and carried on, comparing herself to grass that is beaten down by heavy rain and then pops up again. She refused to marry again and lived austerely, depriving herself of basic needs, and died as a result when she was only twenty-four. Maybe if she’d had a different spiritual advisor she would have found a better way to live and contribute to the world than opting for excessive mortifications causing her own death? There is something of the martyrdom of mothers in her death. Mothers can sacrifice themselves to their children’s well-being, denying themselves greatly: a small warning bell to this archetype.

I was interested in what exactly a third order, or tertiary order, is. It is a way for lay people to join a religious order without taking full vows. Some people live in the monastery and others live in the secular world while still being associated with the order in this way. The name comes from the formal Third Rule of religious orders like the Benedictines or Franciscans. The Third Order of St. Francis has become the model for other orders, so it seems natural that in addition to her devotion to poverty, Elizabeth would have gravitated toward this order in particular, since it might have been more welcoming to laypeople during her time period.

St. Lawrence – Knight of Coins

St. Lawrence is carrying a metal grate or gridiron which reminds me of the torture of poor St. Blandina and the martyrs of Lyons. In our current society I hear of shootings, massacres, and death frequently, but this prevalent violence hasn’t inured me to the horrific deaths of some of the Saints.

Lawrence was a deacon of the Church in Rome under Pope Sixtus II. Not much is known about him apart from this association and his death.

The Roman emperor Valerian had forbidden Christians to assemble and also forced them to worship using pagan rites in the year 257. Naturally, the Pope defied this order, so he and several officials were beheaded in 258. The remaining officials of the Church were also killed; St. Lawrence met his death four days after the Pope. Some accounts say he was beheaded like the Pope and others say he was roasted on a grid. It could be another instance where the legend was embellished centuries later because by the fourth century he was firmly venerated.

St. Lawrence was buried and his grave marked through the years with plaques and churches, and as veneration for him grew, so did the churches. His shrine is now housed in the Papal Basilica of Saint Lawrence Outside the Walls (San Lorenzo fuori le Mura) in Rome. It is one of the seven pilgrim churches of Rome. It was bombed during World War II in 1943 and lost some frescoes, and during restoration in the late 1940s they removed some 19th century renovations, but it still stands, with frescoes, carvings and reliefs, tombs, and mosaics from various periods. This is a picture of the 13th century facade, which reminds me so much of Florentine architecture and Dante.

In the imagery on the tarot card, Robert Place has Lawrence holding gold coins, a reference to the wealth of the Church, supposedly entrusted to Lawrence after the Pope’s death, which he distributed to the poor to keep the money from Roman coffers. Lawrence was then singled out for special torture because of this act of defiance, which is why the gridiron story might have started with this part of the legend.

Who knows? The Church cautions against support of such verbal embellishments since there are no contemporary written accounts of such things in relation to Lawrence. Place mentions it, but then I sometimes find Place using his own projections in his writing. However, it’s part of the legend which is naturally why he depicted it.

As for the tarot archetype, I am starting to think I am being followed by “Old Stodgy” as I call him. This knight is a reliable fellow, as Lawrence was. Good with money perhaps and with feet solidly planted to the ground of steadfast belief. Not a bad guy to have as a deacon of the Church in a crisis.

Tarot of the Saints Study

I am not Catholic, but nonetheless remain devoted to Church history and the Saints. Author Anneli Rufus wrote a wonderful book called Magnificent Corpses about reliquaries in Europe and her life-long fascination with Saints, even though she is Jewish. Her book piqued my curiosity and I bought some card decks and books for my collection dealing with this subject.

I have just uploaded the eleven studies I did in December 2006 and January 2007 with this card deck. I will be continuing this study in daily draws as the spirit moves me, so to speak. Instead of a daily draw, I’ll be continuing numerically with the study of these cards.

I have two other decks dealing with Saints: Voices of Saints, and The Saint Deck, as well as two French playing card decks with statuary of Saints found in French churches. I mix visual images of these for comparison with the Tarot of the Saints.

Here is a snap of my card and book collection about Saints, church history, illuminated manuscripts, and biographies of religious figures in history. I ran out of room on the table, so they aren’t all there!