Barbara vs. Thomas Ken

It's here, it's here! No, not the final battle of the First Round -- though that's an important milestone in Lent Madness 2015. But  the matchup everyone's been talking about (or at least Tim and Scott) since the inception of the bracket: Barbie vs. Ken! The 3rd century saint vs. the 17th century English bishop and hymn writer. The winner will face Egeria and the matchups for the Saintly Sixteen will be complete. View the complete (and updated daily) bracket here.

Yesterday, South African missionary and martyr Bernard Mizecki was able to accomplish something that a dragon could not: vanquish Margaret of Antioch. With a 57% to 43% margin of victory, Bernard advances to the Saintly Sixteeen where he will square off against Jackson Kemper.

Enjoy this last matchup of the Round of 32 and gird your loins for tomorrow's start of the Saintly Sixteen as Brendan the Navigator faces Thecla.


Barbara is one of the fourteen Auxiliary Saints. Her story is difficult to reconstruct due to inconsistencies and obvious embellishments. She maintains her place on the Roman Catholic and Anglican lists of saints.

Barbara was born in the third century in either Heliopolis in Syria (or possibly in modern-day Egypt) or Nicomedia in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) to a wealthy pagan family. After the death of Barbara’s mother, her father was worried for her safety so he built a large tower to protect her and her virginity.

A traveling physician introduced Barbara to Christianity during one of her father’s extended absences. She believed the message and was baptized. While her father was away, she hired workmen to construct a third window in her tower to represent the Trinity. She also used her finger to etch a cross upon the wall. Upon her father’s return, Barbara explained the significance of the windows and told him of her newfound faith. Her father (in a rage) intended to give her over to the authorities, but she was miraculously whisked away to a mountain gorge. Her father pursued her and found a shepherd who refused to reveal her whereabouts. He eventually encountered another shepherd who betrayed her hiding place.

Her abuse at the hands of her father and the authorities was marked by many miraculous happenings. She was tortured mercilessly but every night her wounds healed while she was in her cell. The torches that were intended to burn her were miraculously extinguished before they could touch her flesh. At last she was dragged out naked to be paraded around the town with another martyr, Juliana. An angel was sent to cover their nakedness.

She was finally condemned to be beheaded. Her father requested that he be the one to strike the blow. On his way home after committing the dastardly deed, he was struck dead by a bolt of lightning. Because Barbara is associated with lightning, she has become the patron saint of firefighters, soldiers, and gunsmiths.

Collect for Barbara
Almighty God, by whose grace and power your holy martyr Saint Barbara triumphed over suffering and was faithful even to death: Grant us, who now remember her in thanksgiving, to be so faithful in our witness to you in this world, that we may receive with her the crown of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- David Creech

Thomas KenNPG D15194,Thomas Ken,by; after George Vertue; F. Scheffer

Born in 1637 and ordained in 1661, Thomas Ken was a bishop, hymn writer, author, royal chaplain to Charles II of England, and one of seven bishops who (in 1688) opposed James II’s Declaration of Indulgence, which was designed to promote Roman Catholicism.

In 1663 Ken became rector of Little Easton, Essex, then rector of East Woodhay, Hampshire, and presbyter of Winchester in 1669. He published A Manual of Prayers for use at Winchester College in 1674.

Perhaps no story sums up the moxie of Thomas Ken as Royal Chaplain more than an exchange he had with King Charles II. Ken was asked by the king to cover up an indelicate matter. Charles requested that his consort (Nell Gwyn) be allowed to lodge with the chaplain so as to cover the king’s indiscretions. Rather than assent, Ken replied that it was “not suitable that the Royal Chaplain should double as the Royal Pimp.” King Charles admired Ken’s forthrightness. Later, when the See of Bath and Wells came open, Charles insisted Ken be elevated to the episcopal throne, saying, “None shall have it but that little man who refused lodging to poor Nellie!”

Ken was a famed preacher and even royalty begged for seats when he was preaching. His force of character and faith caused him great difficulty when King James II ascended the throne. He was one of several bishops imprisoned in the Tower of London for refusing to sign the Declaration of Indulgence. He was later acquitted.

Despite this, Ken remained loyal to James through the so-called Glorious Revolution of William of Orange and his consort Mary. William and Mary demanded oaths of allegiance from all bishops. Thomas Ken and others (known as the Non-Jurors — the older meaning of “juror” is “one who takes an oath,” hence “perjurer” as “one who swears falsely”) refused to take the oath. This loyalty cost Ken his episcopacy. He was deprived of his See in 1691 and spent the subsequent twenty years of his life in retirement. Ken’s legacy remains strong and is given voice throughout churches all over the world when they sing “Praise God from whom all blessings flow,” which Ken wrote as a setting for the Doxology.

Collect for Thomas Ken
Almighty God, you gave your servant Thomas Ken grace and courage to bear witness to the truth before rulers and kings: Give us strength also that, following his example, we may constantly defend what is right, boldly reprove what is evil, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- Robert Hendrickson


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238 comments on “Barbara vs. Thomas Ken”

  1. I'd never thought about it before, but what a thrill it was to be today's first vote!

    Thanks to the SEC for inspiring all of us to learn more about these Holy Women and Men, thus deepening our knowledge and devotion in a way that is meaningful and fun.

    1. As one who lives near Ft.Sill,Ok which happens to be the home of the U.S. Army Field Artillery whose patron saint is St Barbara,,, there is no other way to vote except for St Barbara. Just wish I could vote more tan once

    1. Yes, never thought I would pick Ken over Barbie; she had much more fun shoes. Anyone who stood against James II, however, is one for me while Barbara's story is another one of those fantastical early Christian martyr stories that feel mythological.

      1. I know! And she looked so cool in her pink Barbie car! However, I had to pay homage to our organist and fairly new pipe organ. The Doxology never sounded better.

    2. That's what changed my mind. I was all set to vote for Barbara, but when I read the Thomas refused to be the "royal pimp", I changed my mind. You rock, Thomas!

    3. Phil, thank you so much for sharing the beautifully sung hymns. They are such a calm respite to this hectic day. You are my saint of the day!

    4. Do we have to use the male model of saintliness? Are there not many images, vastly different but equally compelling?

    5. I'm with you, Paul! Also such a truth-teller... and then there's the music! Wonder if Ken I's vestments were more ornate than Ken II's modern clothes!

      1. Let's get this straight: Louis Bourgeois wrote the music for the doxology; Ken wrote the words as a metrical version of the Gloria Patri (for use with metrical psalms).

        1. Well, actually, William, my Episcopal Hymnal says Thomas Ken did write the words to vs. 3 of Hymn 380 (the doxology.) The first two verses were written by Isaac Watts paraphrasing Psalm 117. The tune melody is Old 100th and the harmony was "after" Louis Bourgeois.

    6. I have to agree. Some of the stories of the early saints are so amazing as to be really hard to believe. Someone who refuses to be "the Royal Pimp," however ... my kind of man! Add good music to that and what's not to love?

  2. Thomas's collect was the swaying point for me. I pray daily to be as strong in my convictions as Thomas was.

  3. THis is a no-brainer. Bishop Ken's response to the King is worthy of the dowager Duchess of Grantham.

    1. Amen to that! Thomas Ken has a special place in my heart, and I love to sing his Compline hymn (all of it, not just the doxology).

  4. How can you not love a third-century woman with the gumption to direct a renovation project--when mean dad was out of town! Gutsy gal. So many of these female saints had horrendous upbringings and unkind parents, and for that they deserve our vote and admiration. A king's would-be pimp? Child's play.

    1. I voted for Barbara as well, even though there are some pretty strange stories attached to her. The grains of truth that I focused on were her steadfastness in her faith regardless of what happened to her. Not that refusing the king's request to become his pimp isn't something to be admired, but for today, Barbara gets my vote.

    2. Thank you Lea and Jane for focusing on the true pain that Barbara endured-a cruel and unloving father and her steadfast faith. Why do so many of these early women saints have to have fantastical stories? Isn't it enough that her own father killed her!! I vote for Barbie (though Ken is pretty cool, too)

  5. Far be it from me to suggest that the SEC has been putting its fingers on the scales, by editing their saintly summaries to favor more modern saints over ancient ones -- but Ken better than Barbie? Really?

    1. Barbara, to me, is far more inspirational than Ken will ever be - I don't see a comparison at all. Mr. Ken did stand up for his beliefs and stood up to a king, but lots of others have done that. Not too many would be killed for their faith by their own father. Besides, I'm of Irish heritage and, it being this close to St. Patrick's day, couldn't bring myself to vote for an Englishman. : )

    2. I also have questioned the position of the SEC thumb in some of these mini-bios. I decided that the stories of the female saints are a reflection of the position and value, or lack thereof, women in the society of their time. Their stories had to be embellished in order render them credible.

  6. I have to vote for my namesake, Barbara, today. She was steadfast in her faith despite being abused. I cringed when I read that her father asked to be the one to behead her. How happy I was that I did NOT have her Dad as a father!!!!!

    1. I just noticed the title of her picture when I downloaded it. Apparently someone else agreed! "Ghirlandaio_St_Barbara_Crushing_her_Infidel_Father_with_a_Kneeling_Donor"

    2. Yes, while I am impressed with Thomas Ken and his bravery, I must remain loyal to my patron saint and vote for Barbara. And all my friends, if they know what is good for them will also vote for Barbara because in addition to being the patron saint of firefighters, soldiers, and gunsmiths, she is the patron saint of artillery.

  7. Oh, now, this is not fair. How can I vote for Ken over Barbie? And yet...

    I will just have to ponder this further.

    You know, it would be easier if Ken had an animal attached to add to the Lent Madness Bestiary...

  8. As a fellow Barbara and as a Pirate (we like to use cannons and black powder) I had to go with Barbara.

  9. I'm interested that so many comments this year reflect an ignorance of/distaste for the early church, for story, for the imaginative, and for mystics - who are judged "neurotic" or "selfish." Clearly people prefer reasonable saints, and presumably a domesticated God. I'm now better able to understand why many young people feel short-changed by this impoverished Christianity, and look elsewhere for spiritual nourishment that is more holistic.

  10. I was all set to vote for Barbara due to having spent time in my post college days in a town named for her. Ken won me over though at his refusal to be the "royal pimp." I have a pet peeve about folks humoring anything and everything because a person is wealthy or holds a title. I admire folks who don't do that!

  11. My name is Barbara and I've heard precious little about St.Barbara other than she was a martyr.
    This all sounds a little fabricated too, but I'm voting out of loyalty.

  12. Another tough one: the patron saint of firefighters and guns, versus the gutsy Royal Non-Pimp. Barbara does have the classier avatar picture. That's her father underfoot, and very tiny in the background you can see him committing the foul deed itself.

  13. I initially was going to vote for Bishop Ken, who was truly a man of principle, until I actually read the Declaration of Indulgence that the good bishop refused to sign. Rather than "promoting Roman Catholicism", it promotes tolerance for all religions, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Moslem. It looks back on the previous couple of centuries, and acknowledges that trying to enforce one faith for England has not been helpful for the economic and spiritual health of the nation. Bishop Ken failed to see the wisdom in this. Our world today would be safer and closer to God if all could embrace this. I therefore cast my vote for the persecuted but steadfast Barbara. I especially like her love of symbolism in installing the third window in the tower, and her ability to get it done in spite of being locked up.

    1. Susan, the intolerance bothered me too. I was glad to see that Bp Ken remained loyal to the King in fact during the Glorious Revolution, even if he refused to take the oath. Not because I think kingship matters, but because toleration does; and clearly King Charles II recognized his worth. So, a deeper story there than the brief biography can conjure. In the end, I found myself voting for the Doxology, which is my first coherent memory of church.

    2. There was also a strong civil objection b/c the king was asserting his right to stop or prevent enforcement of laws enacted by the parliament ("sovereign authority, prerogative royal, and absolute power"). The so-called toleration of the Indulgence was arbitrary, at the will of the king, not a universal human right.

    3. I think there is a modern temptation to view James's Declarations through the prism of modern rights documents like the Canadian Charter or the European Convention. I think that would be a mistake. It's actually pretty historically contentious that the Declarations of Indulgence were indeed about promoting equality for all regardless of creed and not the first maneuverings of returning the English Church to the Roman obedience (and it's tempting to imagine what might have been! "England thy dowry as in days of yore"?)

      Ken and his fellow nonjurors' refusal to recant their oath to James and to bow to the Protestant Hanovers shows that their motive was not simple anti-Catholic bigotry. And, notably for the largely American audience here, the Declarations were themselves an assertion of the Divine Right of Kings over parliamentary supremacy.

      There is a librarian at the Roman Catholic federated university in the University of Toronto who still carries the standard of the House of Wittelsbach, heirs to the Stuarts though they have long ceased to pursue their claim to the throne. He runs quite an impressive website of Jacobite history at Jacobite dot ca. The incumbent pretender is Francis II, titular Duke of Bavaria.

      (That said, I voted for Barbara this round out of respect for my late grandmother!)

  14. My heart goes out to all battered women. My vote however went to Thomas for the pimp thing.......

  15. I didn't vote for the last Saint to live in a tower with an unreasonable father (this is sad-the name isn't coming to my mind), so Barbara for today's match.

  16. The story of Barbara is quite a stretch to me. I'm grateful to Thomas Ken every Sunday as the doxology is sung (and for other hymns he's penned). I was glad to learn of his other contributions. Go Ken! (And thinking of some other Kens I know too).

  17. Let me guess . . . I predict the female with epic faith, but unsubstantiated backstory will fall yet again to the guy with the impressively verifiable resume . . . However, for the sake of ALL the "Barbies" who stood up to overbearing fathers who treated them like property and who suffered horrific torture and public humiliation for the "audacity" to hold onto their Christian beliefs, even unto death, Saint Barbara, you have my vote and my humble thanks.

  18. Obviously Barbara deserves the Golden Halo, so you must vote for her in the first & every round!
    Do you think that so many people were being persecuted for their Christian faith in the first centuries after Christ, that the biographers of these holy people thought they had to embellish the stories to make one stand out?

  19. Thomas Ken for his hymns, but also because I have a soft spot for the non-jurors, whose Scottish contingent had such influence on The Episcopal Church.

  20. I don't want to abandon Barbara, because I know the empiricists in this group--and they are many--will be going for Ken. That saints like Barbara are remembered so many centuries later attests to the strength of their witness.
    Nevertheless, when I read that Ken was the Bishop of Bath and Wells, I was sold. Wells is the most beautiful cathedral in the world, and it is my "thin place"--a spiritual home away from Home. Ken it is!

  21. Barbara's tale is indeed fantastical...but learning she "inspired Spanish mariners to name the difficult straits off the California coast Santa Barbara" clinched it for me - for no really good reason other than memories. BTW, you know you are obsessed with Lent Madness when you see an ad from Big Lots that begins with "This is Madness" and wonder what is Big Lots' connection with Lent...

    1. ha! yes, some of us can be totally obsessed. now anything purple sends me into a tither! in a good way.