Canaire vs. Barbara

Welcome to the FIRST FULL WEEK of Lent Madness XV! Today Canaire takes on Barbara as two strong and beloved women, with some surrounding legends, square off for a shot at the Saintly Sixteen. As Barbara is the patron saint of miners, you could call this matchup Canaire in a Coal Mine. But that would just be silly.

On Saturday, Kassia trounced Casimir 89% to 11% in the first major rout of 2023. 

Time to vote!


Any woman who’s been called “stubborn” or “obstinate” or told her gender kept her from following God’s calling will relate to the story of St. Canaire.

Little is recorded about Canaire’s life (also spelled Conaire, Canir, and Canera), but as it neared its end in the year 530, she had a vision of all the churches of Ireland. A tower of fire rose from each church to heaven, but the greatest tower came from the monastery founded by St. Senan at Inis Cathaig, an island off the coast of County Clare in Ireland.

Naturally, Canaire followed the light to Inis Cathaig, crossing the sea “with dry feet as if she were on smooth land,” Senan greeted her at the harbor.

“You see, I have come,” Canaire said, according to her biography on the website of St. Canera Catholic Church in Neosho, Missouri.

But Senan refused to let her enter the monastery, as the monks’ vows of chastity prohibited them from having contact with women.

Canaire’s reply rings true through the ages: "How canst thou say that? Art thou better than Jesus Christ? He came to redeem women no less than men. He suffered on the Cross for women as well as men. He opens the kingdom of heaven to women as surely as to men. Why then dost thou shut women out from this isle?"

In the end, Senan, apparently unimpressed by the fact Canaire was standing on water throughout this entire exchange, permitted the saint to come ashore, though not much farther. She went to heaven “straightaway” after receiving communion and was buried on the coast, as she had requested.

Her story lives on in the “Life of St. Senan.” So does her righteous indignation.

Collect for Canaire
Almighty God, by your Holy Spirit you have made us one with your saints in heaven and on earth: Grant that in our earthly pilgrimage we may always be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer, and know ourselves to be surrounded by their witness to your power and mercy. We ask this for the sake of Jesus Christ, in whom all our intercessions are acceptable through the Spirit, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen. 

Emily McFarlan Miller


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 keep her isolated from men.

Despite her father’s shrewd sheltering of her early life, Barbara converted to Christianity and refused to marry, having chosen consecrated virginity. It’s said that a traveling physician introduced Barbara to Christianity during one of her father’s extended absences. She believed the message of faith 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 enraged father intended to give her over to the authorities, but she was miraculously whisked away to a mountain gorge. Her father pursued her and eventually persuaded a shepherd to betray her hiding place.

Like many women of her time who wanted to resist forced marriage and assert their autonomy, she committed herself to the church in order to avoid various crusty dusty suitors. Her father therefore sent her to her martyrdom, and in some stories, he beheaded her himself, so loath he was to  pawn her off to another man.

Of course, since she was a holy woman, her evil father was punished by being struck by lightning and entirely consumed by fire on his way home. For this reason, St. Barbara is prayed to for protection from explosives. Which is kind of ironic.

Her feast day is December 4, and she is the patron saint of miners, military workers, including gunsmiths, artillery detachments, armor makers, and mathematicians. Her relics can be found at St. Vladimir Cathedral in Kiev. According to the Orthodox Church in America’s website, “The hand of Saint Barbara is kept in a special shrine at Saint Michael's Monastery in Kiev, on the left side of the church. The glove covering her hand is changed frequently, then the old glove is cut up and the pieces are distributed to pilgrims.” This does make me wonder, what do they do with the other glove of the pair?

If you like

  1. Independent women
  2. Bad guys getting blown up
  3. Fancy gloves

Then you’ll love Saint Barbara.

Collect for Barbara
Embolden your church, O God, with the stories of your saints Catherine, Barbara, and Margaret, that we might face all trials and adversities with a fearless mind and an unbroken spirit, knowing that we are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ who strengthens us. Through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (LFF 2022)

Keegan Osinski


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108 comments on “Canaire vs. Barbara”

  1. Barbara’s father had one thought in mind:
    To protect her from all of mankind;
    So he built a great tower
    To keep her in his power:
    A choice both unwise and unkind.

  2. Two legends. Not entirely happy with either, but I shy away from stories that are all about holy virginity. At least Canaire had her indignation.

    1. Holy virginity most certainly has its drawbacks but as (far too often) it was the only available way to object to forced marriage, it is a force for female autonomy that has had a powerful effect over two thousand years of Christianity. Kathleen Norris has a wonderful chapter on it in her book The Cloister Walk.

    2. I've come to read "holy virginity" as code for "For reasons that are nobody's business, I don't want to be married."

  3. I wanted to vote for Barbara as she is my namesake. Alas, I found Canaire more compelling so voted for her instead.

  4. My husband was posted at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma for his two year obligation and we learned about Barbara. The post always celebrated St. Barbara's day because she was the patron saint of the artillery. It was the day for open houses, from the general and officers down the ranks to the dorms. Men wore red sport jackets or their best dress uniforms. Then the news came that the RC church had demoted her and the community was disappointed. Nevertheless the parties continued. How can I resist Barbara?

    1. Yea Barbara! The RC church demoted her! I am so glad and grateful that I am an Episcopalian…. inclusive ones!

  5. "‘God will grant,' said she, ‘that the spot where I shall lie may not be the first to be swept away by the waves.'" - From The Lives of the British Saints by S. Baring-Gould: Society of
    Cymmrodorion (London England) p. 192

    In memory and honor of all those buried close to the sea, voting for Canaire.

  6. It was good to learn of these two, as I didn’t know of either one till now, one of the joys of Lent Madness. Canaire got my vote today.

  7. Barbara was a feisty one! Her father was rather over protective, as was my father; however, for all of my father’s controlling manner, he was not barbaric! Seems ancient times had a tendency to be barbaric. I love the idea of adding a third window in the tower to represent the trinity!

  8. Two basically misoginist myths. The leap from Barbara to the artillery is mind-boggling but I suppose one should never underestimate the Celtic church

  9. When you live a rather ordinary, quiet and unassuming Christian life as I have, there is something about living your last day by walking on water to the most Holy place of your dreams, receiving communion and then going to Jesus. Go Canaire!

  10. I voted for Barbara because #1) I consider myself an independent woman even in a 50 year marriage, (with some exceptions), and #2) when I read she was the patron saint of military workers, I couldn’t help but think of all the soldiers who have lost limbs in these last few years from IED’s.

  11. Since Barbara's relics reside in Kiev, I'm voting for her in solidarity with its citizens. Also in memory of my nephew, a munitions specialist with the USMC who died, along with many members of his platoon, in a tragic explosion during a training exercise. Semper Fi, RJ, and God bless the people of Ukraine.

    1. I, too, had to go with Barbara for many reasons, though Canaire was also interesting. In 2019, I visited the shrine at St Michael’s in Kiev and saw the St Barbara veneration. Beautiful, holy place which I hope to revisit when the war is won.

  12. I have to vote for St. Barbara. We happened upon her beautiful little shrine (la Chapelle Sainte-Barbe) on a cliffside in the forest near Faouet, Brittany in 2019. It was built around 1500, supposedly to give thanks to her for saving a local lord from lightning strikes during a storm. Also, her feast day is my birthday!

  13. Barbara had to struggle with being alone. Isolated by her father's deceptiveness under the lie of safety for her life. He was an evil controlling opportunist, he wanted to probably sell her to the highest bidder. He then murders her. So much for her safety. Thank God the tyrant was shocked on the way home, lightning ⚡ killed his anger issues real fast. She endured a lot with him in her life. She needed a saviour and Jesus she choose.

  14. Tough choice: Two admirably strong women. Barbara had the edge because she was described as, among other things, the patron saint of mathematics, and I love the idea of associating a strong powerful woman with mathematics.

    1. Try it from another device. I couldn't vote from my ipad, but I could from my android phone. Go figure!

    1. Well not the first time this season.. I hope the matches improve. We need more QUALTY candidates.

  15. I spent an eight week vacation at Ft. Sill in June and July of 1970. Now I know that Saint Barbra was protecting me all the while and gave me the strength to make it thirough my training.
    Just a little different slant on the Saints in our lives for me.

  16. Tough choice. Went for Canaire as my people are from the West of Eire. Safe to say that St. Senan will never be nominated in a future LM bracket.

    1. Never say "never" where Lent Madness candidates are concerned. We've had some, um, interesting/astonishing saints put forward over the years. And a few surprising winners! (Frances Perkins, anyone?)

  17. This was a tough decision, because like most women in Lent Madness, both are worthy of moving on. Alas, only one may do so. After much thought, I just had to vote for Barbara. I think it was the demise of her father that made me LOL! Besides, I guess I like
    independent women; bad guys getting blown up, and fancy gloves!LOL!

  18. My kinda gal, Canaire! “ He came to redeem women no less than men. He suffered on the Cross for women as well as men. He opens the kingdom of heaven to women as surely as to men. ” I was reared with the 1928 BCP. A young girl in the South in the 50s. I never pushed back. Canaire spoke truth to power. I do now!

    Both bios are very well written. I am a writer of sermons - much admiration for both.

      1. Beautifully written, Emily!
        I am eager to learn more about her.
        Each year, Lent Madness introduces me to a new saint who inspires me. Thanks to you, I have found this year’s inspiration already.
        Thank you.

  19. Wow, this was a tough vote choice for me. My beloved mother-in-law was names Barbara and she was a strong woman. But I went with Canaire because of her Righteous Indignation and speaking the truth that Christ came to save ALL, including women.

  20. A thin story from a thin place, perhaps, but it's Canaire for me today. Bodily relics give me the creeps, but oh, to stand on the windy shore where Canaire last partook of the body and blood of Christ before stepping through the thin veil to take her rightful place at the heavenly banquet!
    I googled to look for a Collect written specifically for Canaire, and found this prayer on the website of the Northumbria Community, a Celtic group based there:
    "Teach us to follow in Your steps across the icy waters of prejudice and fear to the perfect communion of God's kingdom."