Here we visited the Monastery of St Stephen, which dates back to the late 12th century and sits high on the rock formation at roughly 528 metres. Inside, beautiful frescoes adorn the walls and ceiling of the church, some from as early as the mid-1500s. After an overnight stay, we were back at the Meteora to visit the Roussanou Monastery, sited at a slightly lower elevation of 484 metres. Home to an active community of nuns since the end of the last century, it also features the recent addition of an interior chapel dedicated to St Barbara and the Nativity of the Mother of God.
St Barbara hailed from the city of Heliopolis in Phoenicia (now Lebanon), having been born in the mid-third century. Her rich father Dioscorus was a pagan idolater who, after the death of his wife, devoted himself to his only daughter. He kept Barbara in a tower where she was taught to worship pagan gods, but the beautiful intelligent girl became convinced that soulless idols could not have created the splendour of the universe.
Eventually afforded more freedom by her father, Barbara – who was refusing offers of marriage having consecrated herself to the Lord – was confirmed in her belief when she encountered other Christians in the town. Taught more fully about the Christian faith, she was promptly baptised.
However, when Barbara told Dioscorus she had become a Christian and that worshipping false gods was futile, he drew his sword – but Barbara fled to a hillside where a crevice opened to facilitate her escape. Eventually her father and the local prefect, Martianus, found, imprisoned and tortured her. On one occasion Barbara prayed and the Lord healed her wounds. Finally, though, she was beheaded. Soon afterwards, Dioscorus and Martianus were struck by lightning and killed.
Honoured as a virgin and martyr, Barbara's feast day is 4 December and she is the patron saint of, among others, armourers, artillerymen, firemen and miners.
• Wishing you all a happy holy Christmas and a peaceful New Year. See you at our next bi-monthly Mass on 10 January at Blessed Sacrament, Aintree.