Saint Lucy

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Saint Lucy, by Domenico Beccafumi, 1521 is High Renaissance recasting of a Gothic iconic image (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena)

Saint Lucy of Syracuse, also known as Saint Lucia, (traditional dates 283-304) was a rich young Christian martyr who is venerated as a Saint by Catholic and Orthodox Christians. Her feast day in the West is December 13; she is the patron saint of blindness. Lucy is the only saint celebrated by the Lutheran Swedes and Norwegians, in celebrations that retain many pre-Christian elements of a midwinter light festival.



Lucy means "light", with the same Latin root, lux, as "lucid," which means "clear, radiant, understandable." "In 'Lucy' is said, the way of light" Jacobus de Voragine stated at the beginning of his vita of the Blessed Virgin Lucy, in Legenda Aurea, the most widely-read version of the Lucy legend in the Middle Ages. St Lucy's history is shrouded in darkness: all that is really known for certain is that she was a martyr in Syracuse in Diocletian's persecutions of 303 A.D.. Her veneration spread to Rome, so that by the sixth century the whole Church recognized her courage in defense of the faith.

Because people wanted to shed light on Lucy's bravery, legends grew up, reported in the Acta that are associated with her name. All the details are conventional ones also associated with other female martyrs of the early 4th century. Her Roman father died when she was young, leaving her and her mother without a protecting guardian. Her mother, Eutychia, had suffered four years with a "bloody flux" but Lucy having heard the renown of Saint Agatha the patroness of Catania, "and when they were at a mass, one read a gospel which made mention of a woman which was healed of the bloody flux by touching of the hem of the coat of Jesu Christ," which, according to Legenda Aurea, convinced her mother to pray together at Saint Agatha's tomb, and Eutychia was cured.

Now Eutychia had arranged a marriage for Lucy with a pagan bridegroom, but Lucy urged that the dowry be spent on alms that she might retain her virginity. Euthychia suggested that the sums would make a good bequest, but Lucy countered, "That which thou givest when thou shalt die, thou givest it because thou mayest not bear it with thee. Give then for God's sake whiles thou livest." News that the patrimony and jewels were being distributed came to the ears of Lucy's betrothed, who heard from a chattering nurse that Lucy had found a nobler Bridegroom.

Her rejected pagan bridegroom denounced Lucy as a Christian to the magistrate Paschasius, who ordered her to burn a sacrifice to the Emperor's image. Lucy replied that she had given all that she had: "I offer to him myself, let him do with his offering as it pleaseth him." Sentenced to be defiled in a brothel, Lucy asserted:

"The body may take no corruption but if the heart and will give thereto assenting: for if thou madest me to do sacrifice by my hands, by force, to the idols, against my will, God shall take it only but as a derision, for he judgeth only of the will and consenting. And therefore, if thou make my body to be defouled without mine assent, and against my will, my chastity shall increase double to the merit of the crown of glory. What thing that thou dost to the body, which is in thy power, that beareth no prejudice to the handmaid of Jesu Christ."

The guards who came to take her way found her so filled with the Holy Spirit that she was stiff and heavy as a mountain; they could not move her even when they hitched her to a team of oxen. Even with a dagger through her throat she prophesied against her persecutors.


Jacobus de Voragine did not include the episode of Lucy's passio that was most vivid to her devotés in the Middle Ages and since: having her eyes torn out. Lucy was represented in Gothic art holding a dish with two eyes on it (illustration above). The legend concludes with God restoring Lucy's eyes.

Dante also mentions Lucia in Inferno Canto II as the messenger "of all cruelty the foe" sent to Beatrice from "The blessed Dame" (Divine Mercy), to rouse Beatrice to send Virgil to Dante's aid. She has instructed Virgil to guide Dante through Hell and Purgatory. Lucia is only referenced indirectly in Virgil's discourse within the narrative and doesn't appear; the reasons for her appearing in this intermediary role are still somewhat unclear to scholars, although doubtless Dante had some allegorical end in mind, perhaps the enlightening Grace that proceeds from Divine Mercy.

Lucy's name also played a large part in naming Lucy as a patron saint of the blind and those with eye-trouble. She was the patroness of Syracuse.


in Sweden

Missing image
Lucia by Swedish painter Carl Larsson in 1908. Nowadays she often wears electrical candles and is accompanied by maids.

In Sweden and in parts of Norway and Finland, Lucy (called Lucia) is venerated on December 13 in a ceremony where a woman portraying Lucy walks with candles attached to her head ahead of a procession of other women holding candles. The candles symbolize the fire that refused to take her life. The women sing a Lucia-song while entering the room, either Natten går tunga fjät (The Night walks in heavy footsteps) or Sankta Lucia, ljusklara hägring (Saint Lucy, Bright Illusion); the two songs share melody, but differ in the lyrics, although they both describe and cherish the light with which Lucia overcomes the darkness. After finishing this song, the procession usually continue by singing christmas-carols or more songs about Lucia. There are nowadays also boys in the procession often dressed in the same kind of white robe but with a coneshaped hat decorated with golden stars, or dressed up like Santa Claus carrying lanterns. They participate in the singing and also have a song or two of their own, usually Staffan Stalledräng. The tradition with boys accompanying Lucy is rather new and the result of compounding yet another pre-Christian tradition to the annual celebration of December 13.

The Swedish celebration has an old tradition. In the Catholic time, the night of Lucia was celebrated just as many other saints' days were. However, the tradition would continue to live on even after the reformation in the 1530's. According to the julian calendar the night of Lucia was the longest night of the year. This is likely to be the reason why the tradition has lived on in the Nordic countries in particular, as the nights in November and December are very dark and long before the snow has fallen, and the idea of light overcoming darkness is thus appealing.

The modern tradition of the Lucy procession was started in 1927 by a newspaper in Stockholm that elected an official Lucy for Stockholm that year. The initiave was then followed around the country through the local press. Today most cities in Sweden appoint Lucies every year, schools elect a Lucy and her maids among the students, and a national Lucy is appointed through an election, first in newspapers and then on national television. The regional Lucies will usually visit local gallerias, old people's homes and churches, singing and giving free ginger snaps. Recently there was some discussion whether it was suiting if the national Lucy was not a blond Caucasian, but it was decided that ethnical origin should not be a problem and in 2000(?) an adopted colored girl was crowned the national Lucy.

High school students often celebrate by partying the night before, regardless of what weekday it may be, and then calmly appearing for the Lucia-show and breakfast in school on December 13. The school Lucia and her attendants will appear fully dressed performing the traditional songs while the students eat traditional Lucia buns and ginger snaps.

In Sicily

In Sicily and among the Sicilian diaspora, cuccia is eaten in memory of Saint Lucy's miraculous averting of famine.

External links

da:Sankta Lucia de:Lucia von Syrakus fr:Sainte Lucie sv:Lucia


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