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. Both of these saints followed their conscience and stood up to authority. Barbara paid with her life. Therefore, I'll vote for Barbara. The details of her life and death have no doubt been re-told as part of the Golden Legend, those oral stories that entertained and taught ordinary people over the centuries. We post-Englightenment people worry about whether these miracle stories are true. The original audience knew that the heart of the story was true, and the metaphorical details were meant to make a point.

  2. And again, I remind those who think these ancient stories of women are just too fantastical to be believed: consider how women who dare to step outside the traditions that imprison them are treated in much of our world today. Were Barbara's story not embellished, it would have been painfully ordinary and real. I vote for my namesake because she does speak to me.

  3. Speaking truth to power seems to be today's theme! The quote about being the royal pimp sold me on Ken.

  4. Sorry Barbie, had to be Ken, could be all those years in the Choir.......and writing the Doxology doesn't hurt may have had better hair Barbie, but Ken takes it for me.......

  5. Barbara is also the patron saint of pyrotechnicians and, since my family was in fireworks manufacturing, we always asked her to keep all the pyrotechnicians and spectators safe at fireworks displays throughout New England. So, despite not knowing more about her , I have chosen her today!

  6. How could anyone refuse to vote for the man that claims royalty begged for seats to hear him preach, as well as being the chaplain who refused to be the king's pimp........Thomas Ken gets the vote today!

  7. Thomas Ken seems to be a person who had the courage of his convictions, whereas Barbara seemed like a fairy tale person. I am into voting for those who were real -- at least for this year.

  8. Must go with Barbie today, I want to learn more about her and the fact that the land of my childhood church was "given" by Mary of William and Mary fame I can not in good conscience vote for someone who did not support her.

  9. It was interesting to learn from another comment that the indulgence Ken opposed called for religious tolerance! Christian women were treated horrifically, so I'm standing with Barbara today.

  10. Barbara. Daughter and sister of artillery men. Thanks for keeping her on the calendar rather than 'demoting' her to Miss Barbara status.

  11. Yet another virgin locked in a tower then beheaded by her father vs, the writer of "Praise God from whom all blessings flow"? This is a no brainer for me. Sorry, Barbie!

  12. Having sent St Barbara medals to numerous EOD techs [bomb disposal] in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past 10 or so years, I must go with her. Even "unbelievers" carried the medal.

  13. Barbara had my vote even before I read Susan Comer's comment which details the document Ken refused to sign.

    Thanks for the research Susan!
    "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. "

    1. It is true that the Indulgence promoted tolerance ~ however, it is also true that the Indulgence was crafted primarily as a political move on the part of the king who used the Indulgence to re-assert his absolute power, including preventing enforcement of laws enacted by the parliament. The tolerance was not asserted as a right of humans or as a value in communal life, but as a gift of the king, who could (and did) remove that tolerance at will.

  14. As an Episcopalian, I have to go with Ken. It was non-jurors like Ken who made possible the church here. Plus...I admire his sticking up for his principles despite royal pressure.

  15. Barbie vs Ken! Such an an impossible choice and the SEC must be quite pleased with their pairing as they watch the results flood in.

  16. I voted for Thomas Ken. May not have if I had read the comments beforehand and found out what the Declaration of Indulgences said. I've been trying to be more open to these early saint stories. Perhaps the over the top violence is a memory thread of the very real torture these young women went through? And they are, in their way, rebels. But miracles for St. Barbara were that her father was stuck by lightning AFTER he beheaded her, and that her wounds healed and so she was tortured AGAIN? At this moment, I'm telling myself that there was something of comfort here for the first generations of storytellers and listeners that helped to sustain them with their lives rather than a fascination for the violence contained in the stories.

  17. I agree that the story of Barbara is fantastical however I doubt the stories of her abuse are. I am voting for her because she should be the patron saint of victims of domestic violence.

  18. I voted for Ken, partly because I voted for Margaret yesterday and I thought two ghastly fathers in two days were two too many. (And I loved Ken's snarky reply to Charles.) But now I'm kind of sorry. We need mysticism as well as certified practicality.

  19. Ken's story is compelling. Standing up to the powerful is so Christ like. I have mostly avoided the fantastical martyrs so far but Barbara's story touched me. It is a story of abuse -one that is all too common in today's world.
    So it's Barbie for me! Plus, in the world of Barbie and Ken, Barbie is always the star! Ken gets thrown under the bed.

  20. I have to vote for Ken as much as I love Barbara and her redecorating while dad was away but I love the doxology plus the part about not serving as Pimp to the King was enlightening.

  21. Another Rapunzel horror! Barbara does bear a striking resemblance to .. who was it? Margaret of Antioch? .. I really can't bear to think of what our 3rd c. christian ancestors went through in reality. Why isn't there an 11th commandment, "thou shalt not torture!"

    On the lighter? side, I stayed in the home of the secretary to the Dean of Winchester where Nell was housed (outside the close) and where the gateway to the close was in the rear wall (later blocked). So I feel very close to the events surrounding Ken. His willingness to speak with moral honesty to the King is a contrast to Cardinal Wolsey & Henry VIII. Of course, that was a different king, keen to wield the ax, rather than one who's father got beheaded.

  22. If I invent woman with an awful father, a tower surrounded by a moat with ravening seals, lightening crashing through the windows and beheading her can she be in the Saintly Smackdown next year. I could call her St. Theclabara.

  23. My vote didn't take the first time. So after hitting. "Vote " an "view results" several times, I bailed and opened to a fresh page and voted again. This time it worked . For Barbara. So if I show as having voted multiple times it's not my fault! Just delete any extra votes.

  24. I vote for Barbara as a representative of all enslaved and martyred women throughout the world -- another Rapunzel.

    1. You can't go wrong when you write the right song! Gotta admire a man with courage a la Becket.