Artillery in Art & Culture

“English, Ever Reliable And Damned Tasty!”

Cannon beer coaster

Found this during a recent field trip (ahem) to Local 44 in West Philly. I just had to take it home! It’s for Wells Bombardier beer brewed by Wells & Young’s Brewery. This counts for my “Artillery in Art & Culture” category, right? Right?!

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The Feast Of Saint Barbara

Today, 4 December, is the feast day of Saint Barbara, the patron saint of artillerymen! (And miners and engineers and anyone who works with explosives). In honor of her feast day, I will present her story here.

Barbara has long been venerated by Christians but there is little evidence to recommend her historicity. Jacobus de Voragine, a 13th century archbishop of Genoa, wrote a hagiography of her in his collection of hagiographies known as the Legenda Aurea (“Golden Legend”). This version mentions that Barbara lived during the reign of the Roman emperor Maximian, who ruled from 286-305. But no early Christian writer mentions her. Voragine appears to be one of the earliest if not the earliest author to record anything about her. The translations used below are by the 15th century English printer William Caxton.

She was a Christian, the daughter of a local rich man, Dioscorus, who was a dedicated pagan. One version mentions the family being from Nicomedia in the north of modern Turkey. She refused to marry, despite her father’s wishes that she do so; therefore he built her a tower. Though the plan called for only two windows, she convinced the builders to add a third to symbolize the Holy Trinity. Upon hearing what she had done and what it meant, Dioscorus drew his sword intending to kill his daughter on the spot.

Then her father took her and went down into the piscine [fountain or pool], demanding her how three windows give more light than two. And S. Barbara answered: These three fenestres or windows betoken clearly the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the which be three persons and one very God, on whom we ought to believe and worship. Then he being replenished with furor, incontinent drew his sword to have slain her, but the holy virgin made her prayer and then marvellously she was taken in a stone and borne into a mountain on which two shepherds kept their sheep, the which saw her fly.

One of the shepherds gave her away; he was turned to stone and his flock into locusts. Dioscorus brought his daughter to prison, where Jesus appeared to her. A magistrate questioned her and attempted to get her to venerate the Roman gods, but she refused. Then she was subject to torture.

Then the judge, replenished of ire, commanded that she should be hanged between two forked trees, and that they should break her reins with staves, and burn her sides with burning lamps, and after he made her strongly to be beaten, and hurted her head with a mallet. Then S. Barbara beheld and looked upward to heaven, saying: Jesu Christ, that knowest the hearts of men, and knowest my thought, I beseech thee to Ieave me not. Then commanded the judge to the hangman that he should cut off with his sword her paps, and when they were cut off, the holy saint looked again towards heaven, saying: Jesu Christ, turn not thy visage from me. And when she had long endured this pain, the judge comnnanded that she should be led with beating through the streets, and the holy virgin the third time beheld the heaven, and said: Lord God, that coverest heaven with clouds, I pray thee to cover my body, to the end that it be not seen of the evil people.

Her father became her executor. He took her up to a mountain and slew her with his sword. Then, as he came down, he received his retribution for his act and Barbara gained a symbol.

But when her father descended from the mountain, a fire from heaven descended on him, and consumed him in such wise that there could not be found only ashes of all his body.

He was struck by lightning, which would become heavily associated with Barbara and form the root of her protection of artillerymen, miners, engineers, and all who work with explosives. I am unsure what evidence exists concerning when artillery soldiers adopted the cult of St. Barbara. The best theory is that it is connected to the high probability of misfires and explosions that were endemic in early cannons. Today, the United States Army and United States Marine Corps maintain the Order of Saint Barbara to honor the service of exemplary artillerymen.

Saint Barbara Directing the Construction of a Third Window in Her Tower by the Master of the Joseph Sequence (15th century). Currently in the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland.

Saint Barbara Directing the Construction of a Third Window in Her Tower by the Master of the Joseph Sequence (15th century). Currently in the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland.

 

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Crimea has very much been in the news lately, and many have made comparisons between Russia’s reasons for intervening in that region in 2014 and its reasons for doing so in 1853, which triggered the Crimean War (1853-1856). So it seems apropos to look back on the most famous episode that war: the charge of the Light Brigade of British Cavalry under Major General James Brudenell, Earl of Cardigan and the poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. (I also can’t help but wonder if Lord Cardigan was wearing a button-up sweater during the attack!).

Where it ties into artillery is that the cavalry was ordered to attack Russian gun positions, though there is some confusion about what the order actually was or where the attack was intended to take place. The British attacked up a valley and found themselves faced with Russian batteries to their front and flanks–hence the repeated refrain of “Cannon to right of them / Cannon to left of them / Cannon in front of them / Volley’d and thunder’d.” The Russians subjected the cavalry to withering direct fire; the British suffered around 670 casualties. Six weeks later, Tennyson’s poem was published.

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death,
Rode the six hundred.
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldiers knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash’d all their sabres bare,
Flash’d as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army while
All the world wonder’d:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro’ the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel’d from the sabre-stroke
Shatter’d and sunder’d.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder’d.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

Charge of the Light Cavalry Brigade, 25th Oct. 1854, under Major General the Earl of Cardigan, by William Simpson. Simpson depicts the battle from the Russian point of view.

Charge of the Light Cavalry Brigade, 25th Oct. 1854, under Major General the Earl of Cardigan, by William Simpson. Simpson depicts the battle from the Russian point of view.