ode to St. Barbara: masonry walls

“Saint Barbara Crushing Her Infidel Father” by Domenico Ghirlandaio ca. 1473 (detail)

Although she was edged out of first place (by St.-Denis) for the honors of Best Martyr in a highly influential and absolutely definitive study (read the full account of My Favorite Martyr here), St. Barbara (d. 306; see full image detailed above here) is associated with more tangible elements that ought to draw one’s attentive devotion to her on a regular basis.  Because of her imprisonment in a great tower, artistic renderings of which are normally included in her portraits, she is associated with masonry, and properly named the patron saint of masons (initially stone masons, but claimed by brick masons too).

By further association, she has been identified also as the patron saint of architects.  Doubtless, architects would have preferred a saint with more apropos accoutrements (they’re still hoping historical research–conducted by someone else, of course–will reveal a martyr stabbed to death by his own trendy glasses).  The list of possibilities was quite short, since the architects’ martyr faces the tall order of out-martyring architects themselves.

Although designers and builders honored St. Barbara with their craft for centuries following her martyrdom, St. Barbara has been rarely honored in the more recent era.  To help remedy this sad state of affairs in some small way, and in honor of St. Barbara’s feast day, December 4, MoT presents the following  collection of images that capture Significant Achievement in Masonry: Walls We Have Loved, presented here as a pictorial prayer.

Praise be to thee, St. Barbara, favored of the Lord and exalted by Him,

For your manifold graces on masons—and even architects, too. 

Your grace knows no bounds.

Hallowed be thy memory among men and women,

Especially those who make buildings of brick and stone.

Philadelphia: Christ Church

Give us this day reverence for those who passed before us: intuitive minds and skilled hands

Barcelona: S. Pau de Camp

Who wrought timeless beauties from the brute geology of Creation.

Milan: Palazzo Castiglione

We pray for your continued blessing on them: those who worked in brick,

Newark DE: Gore Hall

Prague: Church of the Sacred Heart

those who worked in marble,


Beijing: Forbidden City

those who worked in granite,

Wilmington DE: Hagley

Chicago: May House

and stone we can’t name,

Granada: the Alhambra

Washington DC: DuPont Circle

and spiffy glazed masonry,

London: Debenham House

and sometimes all of them at once.

Surrey: Standen House

Bless the Romans, 

Rome: Baths of Caracalla

And the medieval masons,

Paris: S.-Denis

And the nineteenth century architects and builders,

Bishop Hill IL: Steeple Building

And even those few radical Modernists who dared to work in a traditional material.

Barcelona: German Pavilion

Bless those who could organize bricks like they were sewing a quilt,

London: All Saints, Margaret Street

and those who could spread mortar like it was butter,

New Orleans: somewhere in the French Quarter

and those who recognized mortar as a design element.

Philadelphia: UPenn campus

We ask your special blessing on those devotees of yours who really knew how to build a wall:


Florence: the dome


New Orleans: Taylor Library


Manchester: Midland Bank

and Pope.

Washington DC: National Gallery

We beseech your grace and your intercession, through which may we be spared the glare of glassy curtain walls.  Forgive us our double-skin facades.  Deliver us from concrete panels and lead us back to ashlar.

Norristown PA: county prison

May we ever be blessed by thermal mass, color and sculptural richness.

Barcelona: Gothic Quarter


Baltimore: Eutaw Baptist Church (portrait of the author)

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