Nine Things About St. Lucy

December 13 is the Feast Day of Saint Lucy. Lucy (Lucia) of Syracuse is venerated as a virgin and a martyr and is thought to have lived from about 283 to 304 CE.

[1.] Lucy was born and died in Syracuse, Sicily in the Roman Empire. She was martyred for her faith during the persecutions of Christians by Diocletian (and the other three emperors of the Tetrarchy: Galerius, Constantius, and Maximian).

Portrait of the Four Tetrarchs, porphyry statue circa 300 C.E. Now at St. Mark’s Cathedral, Venice, Italy. Most likely originally installed in Constantinople.

[2.] Legends about Lucy include that she was betrothed to a pagan. Lucy had already consecrated her body to her Christian faith and vowed to distribute her wealth to the poor. The angry fiancé then denounced Lucy to the governor of Syracuse, Paschasius. When Paschasius ordered Lucy to burn a sacrifice to the emperor, Lucy refused. He attempted to move her by a team of oxen (she would not move). He attempted to light a fire around her but the logs would not burn. Finally, Lucy was killed by sword. In some versions, Lucy had her eyes gouged out by her Roman persecutors; in others, Lucy removed her own eyes when her erstwhile suitor complained to her that her beautiful eyes haunted him constantly (and in yet other versions, Heaven restored her eyes and magnified their beauty— they may or may not then still have been removed by Roman soldiers).

The statue of St. Lucy at the basilica named for her in Syracuse, Italy. Note the eyeballs on the torch rest and the dagger in the neck.

[3.] The root of Lucy’s name is lux: Latin for light. Her feast day is frequently conflated with the winter solstice; it was once common to refer to her feast day as the shortest day of the year (the day with the least light leading into days with growing light). She was said to wear a wreath of candles on her head as she carried food and money to the poor in dark alleys and catacombs. The light/sight/illumination imagery is in every representation of Lucy and in Italy and Scandinavia, St. Lucia’s Day still includes processions of young women wearing white gowns and crowns of candles and bearing palms, breads, and sweets.

A St Lucia day celebration. Photo edited from one found on Pinterest, possible original author barnstablepatriot.

[4.] Adding to and enhancing the eyes/light affiliations for Lucy, she is also credited as having the gifts of premonition/foresight and dream sight. Her legends include dreams of St. Agatha telling her she would become the glory of Syracuse, of foretelling the ends to the persecution of Christians and the reigns of Maximian and Diocletian.

[5.] Lucy is associated with the pre-Christian figures of Lucia (Adam’s first wife; another name for Lilith in Scandinavian sources), Lussi (a witch or spirit accompanied by her Lussiferda, an entourage of gnomes and spirits), and the Roman Juno Lucina (a goddess who helped birth humans from the darkness of the womb into light).

[6.] Saint Lucy is the patron saint of the blind, authors, cutlers, glaziers, laborers, martyrs, peasants, saddlers, salesmen, stained glass workers. She is often prayed to by those suffering from eye diseases and impairments, hemorrhages and blood diseases (her mother was said to suffer from a blood disorder), dysentery, and throat afflictions. Places special to Lucy include Venice (Italy), Syracuse (Italy), Metz (France), Olon (Ecuador), Guanes (Colombia), and the Antillean island of St. Lucia.

[7.] In literature, she is found in Voragine’s Legenda Aurea (a version of the Golden Legend), the Acta Martyrum (fifth century CE), the writings of the Venerable Bede, and John Donne’s “A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day.”

[8.] Lucy’s attributes and iconography in the visual arts include: eyes (sometimes as a stemmed flower, usually on a golden plate), palm branches, lamps, a team of oxen, and daggers (knives or swords). In processions, the aforementioned crowns of candles and gift-bearing are also symbols of St. Lucia, as well as a red scarf, sash, or drape worn with a white gown (the red representing the blood of her mother and of martyrs generally; the white gown a symbol of light, purity, and virginity). She is generally represented in painting as a blonde, although one or two images depict her as a brunette.

St. Lucy in painting: Top Left (detail from St. Lucy and St. Agatha from the Wellcome Collection, unknown artist), Top Right (detail from St. Lucy by Carlo Crivelli [1476, National Gallery, UK]), Bottom Left (St. Lucy by Francesco del Cossa, 1472, National Gallery, US), and Bottom Right (Francisco de Zurbaran, ca. 1625-1630, National Gallery, US).

[9] Many places claim to hold relics of this saint: Rome, Lisbon, Naples, Milan, Verona, Germany, France, and Sweden but the majority of her relics are held at the church of St. Geremia in Venice. On November 7, 1981, her relics were stolen from that church (leaving behind only her head and a silver mask). The relics were later found in the lagoon of Montiron and restored to the church on her feast day of December 13th.

Notes and Sources:

Chambers, Robert. ”December 13” from his Book of Days. (This hyperlinked and searchable version is our favorite.)

“Diocletianic Persecution.” Wikipedia

Dorwart, Laura. ”The Witchy, Feminist Story Behind St. Lucia Day.” Ravishly.

“Lucina” ”light-bringer or light-bearer” is an affix that is added to several goddesses, including Juno and Diana.

See also: Lussinata. Lussi-night.

“Saint Lucy.” Wikipedia

“Saint Lucy and Saint Agatha” Wellcome Collection (painting)

“Theft of Saint Lucia Body in Venice.” Veneto Inside

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