Saint Lucy

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Niccolo di Segna - Saint Lucy - Walters 37756.jpg
Saint Lucy, by Niccolò di Segna mid 14th-century Sienese painting, circa 1340. The saint holds the dagger with which she was ultimately executed and the lamp, her attribute.
Virgin and Martyr at Syracuse
Bornc. 283 [1]
Syracuse, Roman Empire
Died304 AD
Syracuse, Western Roman Empire
Venerated in
Canonized Pre-Congregation
Major shrine San Geremia, Venice
Attributes Cord; eyes; eyes on a dish; lamp; swords; woman hitched to a yoke of oxen; woman in the company of Saint Agatha, Saint Agnes of Rome, Barbara, Catherine of Alexandria, and Saint Thecla; woman kneeling before the tomb of Saint Agatha
Patronage The blind; martyrs; Perugia, Italy; Mtarfa, Malta; epidemics; salesmen; Syracuse, Italy; throat infections; writers; Sasmuan, Pampanga Philippines

Lucia of Syracuse (283–304), also called Saint Lucia (Latin : Sancta Lucia) or Saint Lucy, was a Christian martyr who died during the Diocletianic Persecution. She is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Eastern Orthodox churches. She is one of eight women (including Saint Mary) explicitly commemorated by Roman Catholics in the Canon of the Mass. Her traditional feast day, known in Europe as Saint Lucy's Day, is observed by Western Christians on 13 December. Lucia of Syracuse was honored in the Middle Ages and remained a well-known saint in early modern England. [3]



The oldest record of her story comes from the fifth-century Acts of the Martyrs. [4] The single fact upon which various accounts agree is that a disappointed suitor accused Lucy of being a Christian, and she was executed in Syracuse, Sicily, in the year 304 during the Diocletianic Persecution. [5] Her veneration spread to Rome, and by the sixth century to the whole Church. The oldest archaeological evidence comes from the Greek inscriptions from the Catacombs of St. John in Syracuse. Jacobus de Voragine's Legenda Aurea was the most widely read version of the Lucy legend in the Middle Ages. In medieval accounts, Saint Lucy's eyes were gouged out prior to her execution.


All the details of her life are the conventional ones associated with female martyrs of the early fourth century. John Henry Blunt views her story as a Christian romance similar to the Acts of other virgin martyrs. [6]

According to the traditional story, Lucy was born of rich and noble parents about the year 283 AD. Her father was of Roman origin, [1] but died when she was five years old, [7] leaving Lucy and her mother without a protective guardian. Her mother's name Eutychia seems to indicate that she came from a Greek background. [1]

Like many of the early martyrs, Lucy had consecrated her virginity to God, and she hoped to distribute her dowry to the poor. [1] However, Eutychia, not knowing of Lucy's promise, and suffering from a bleeding disorder, feared for Lucy's future. She arranged Lucy's marriage to a young man of a wealthy pagan family.

Eutychia and Lucy at the Tomb of Saint Agatha, by Jacobello del Fiore Jacobello del Fiore Santa Lucia en el sepulcro de Santa Agueda PC Fermo.jpg
Eutychia and Lucy at the Tomb of Saint Agatha, by Jacobello del Fiore

Saint Agatha had been martyred 52 years before during the Decian persecution. Her shrine at Catania, less than 50 miles from Syracuse, attracted a number of pilgrims; many miracles were reported to have happened through her intercession. Eutychia was persuaded to make a pilgrimage to Catania, in hopes of a cure. While there, St. Agatha came to Lucy in a dream and told her that because of her faith her mother would be cured and that Lucy would be the glory of Syracuse, as she was of Catania. With her mother cured, Lucy took the opportunity to persuade her mother to allow her to distribute a great part of her riches among the poor. [1]

Eutychia suggested that the sums would make a good bequest, but Lucy countered, "...whatever you give away at death for the Lord's sake you give because you cannot take it with you. Give now to the true Savior, while you are healthy, whatever you intended to give away at your death." [8]

News that the patrimony and jewels were being distributed came to Lucy's betrothed, who denounced her to Paschasius, the Governor of Syracuse. Paschasius ordered her to burn a sacrifice to the emperor's image. When she refused, Paschasius sentenced her to be defiled in a brothel.

The Christian tradition states that when the guards came to take her away, they could not move her even when they hitched her to a team of oxen. Bundles of wood were then heaped about her and set on fire, but would not burn. Finally, she met her death by the sword [1] thrust into her throat. [9]

Lucy Before the Judge, by Lorenzo Lotto, 1523-32 Lotto, pala di santa lucia 00.jpg
Lucy Before the Judge, by Lorenzo Lotto, 1523–32

Absent in the early narratives and traditions, at least until the fifteenth century, is the story of Lucia tortured by eye-gouging. According to later accounts, before she died she foretold the punishment of Paschasius and the speedy end of the persecution, adding that Diocletian would reign no more, and Maximian would meet his end. [1] This so angered Paschasius that he ordered the guards to remove her eyes. Another version has Lucy taking her own eyes out in order to discourage a persistent suitor who admired them. This is one of the reasons that Lucy is the patron saint of those with eye illnesses. When her body was prepared for burial in the family mausoleum it was discovered that her eyes had been miraculously restored. [7]


By the sixth century, her story was sufficiently widespread that she appears in the Sacramentary of Pope Gregory I. [6] She is also commemorated in the ancient Roman Martyrology. [1] St. Aldhelm (English, died in 709) and later the Venerable Bede (English, died in 735) attest that her popularity had already spread to England, where her festival was kept in England until the Protestant Reformation, as a holy day of the second rank in which no work but tillage or the like was allowed. [7]

Lucy is remembered in the Church of England with a Lesser Festival on 13 December. [10]

Sigebert of Gembloux wrote a mid-eleventh century passio , to support a local cult of Lucy at Metz. [11]

The General Roman Calendar formerly had a commemoration of Saints Lucy and Geminianus on 16 September. This was removed in 1969, as a duplication of the feast of her dies natalis on 13 December and because the Geminianus in question, mentioned in the Passio of Saint Lucy, seems to be a fictitious figure, [2] unrelated to the Geminianus whose feast is on 31 January.


Saint Lucy by Domenico Beccafumi, 1521, a High Renaissance recasting of a Gothic iconic image (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena) Saint Lucy by Domenico di Pace Beccafumi.jpg
Saint Lucy by Domenico Beccafumi, 1521, a High Renaissance recasting of a Gothic iconic image (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena)

Sigebert (1030–1112), a monk of Gembloux, in his sermo de Sancta Lucia, chronicled that her body lay undisturbed in Sicily for 400 years, before Faroald II, Duke of Spoleto, captured the island and transferred the body to Corfinium in the Abruzzo, Italy. From there it was removed by the Emperor Otho I in 972 to Metz and deposited in the church of St. Vincent. It was from this shrine that an arm of the saint was taken to the monastery of Luitburg in the Diocese of Speyer – an incident celebrated by Sigebert in verse. [1]

The subsequent history of the relics is not clear. [1] According to Umberto Benigni, Stephen II (768) sent the relics of St. Lucy to Constantinople for safety against the Saracen incursions. [12] On their capture of Constantinople in 1204, the French found some relics attributed to Saint Lucy in the city, and Enrico Dandolo, Doge of Venice, secured them for the monastery of St. George at Venice. [13] In 1513 the Venetians presented to Louis XII of France the saint's head, which he deposited in the cathedral church of Bourges. Another account, however, states that the head was brought to Bourges from Rome, where it had been transferred during the time when the relics rested in Corfinium. [1]

The remainder of the relics remain in Venice: they were transferred to the church of San Geremia when the church of Santa Lucia was demolished in 1861 to make way for the new railway terminus. A century later, on 7 November 1981, thieves stole all her bones, except her head. Police recovered them five weeks later, on her feast day. Other parts of the corpse have found their way to Rome, Naples, Verona, Lisbon, Milan, as well as Germany, France and Sweden. [13]


Lucy's Latin name Lucia shares a root (luc-) with the Latin word for light, lux . A number of traditions incorporate symbolic meaning of St. Lucy as the bearer of light in the darkness of winter, her feast day being 13 December. Because some versions of her story relate that her eyes were removed, either by herself or by her persecutors, she is the patron saint of the blind. [4]

She is also the patron saint of authors, cutlers, glaziers, laborers, martyrs, peasants, saddlers, salesmen, stained glass workers, and of Perugia, Italy. She is invoked against hemorraghes, dysentery, diseases of the eye, and throat infections. [14]

St. Lucy is the patroness of Syracuse in Sicily, Italy. [14] At the Piazza Duomo in Syracuse, the church of Santa Lucia alla Badia houses the painting Burial of St. Lucy by Caravaggio. She is also the patron saint of the coastal town of Olón, Ecuador, Colombia, which celebrates with a week-long festival culminating on the feast day 13 December. She is also the patron saint of the town of Guanes, Santander, Colombia.

The Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, one of the Windward Islands in the Lesser Antilles, is named after her.


Saint Lucy, by Francesco del Cossa (c. 1430 - c. 1477) Francesco del Cossa - Saint Lucy.jpg
Saint Lucy, by Francesco del Cossa (c. 1430 – c. 1477)

The emblem of eyes on a cup or plate apparently reflects popular devotion to her as protector of sight, because of her name, Lucia (from the Latin word "lux" which means "light"). [15] [16] In paintings St. Lucy is frequently shown holding her eyes on a golden plate. Lucy was represented in Gothic art holding a dish with two eyes on it. She also holds the palm branch, symbol of martyrdom and victory over evil. [7] Other symbolic images include a lamp, dagger, or two oxen. [14]

In literature


Lucia appears in Dante's Inferno Canto II as the messenger sent to Beatrice from "The blessed Dame" (the Virgin Mary), to rouse Beatrice to send Virgil to Dante's aid. Henry Fanshawe Tozer identifies Lucia as representing "illuminative grace". [17] According to Robert Pogue Harrison and Rachel Jacoff, Lucia's appearance in this intermediary role is to reinforce the scene in which Virgil tries to fortify Dante's courage to begin the journey through the inferno.[ citation needed ]

In the Purgatorio IX:52–63, Lucy carries the sleeping Dante to the entrance to purgatory. Then in Paradiso XXXII Dante places her opposite Adam within the Mystic Rose in Canto XXXII of the Paradiso. Lucy may also be seen as a figure of Illuminating Grace or Mercy or even Justice. [18]


Her feast day was commonly described as the shortest day of the year, as it is in John Donne's poem, "A Nocturnal upon St. Lucie's Day, being the shortest day" (1627). The poem begins with: "'Tis the year's midnight, and it is the day's". [19]

Lucia is also the protagonist of a Swedish novel: "Ett ljus i mörkret" ("A light in the darkness") by Agneta Sjödin.

Saint Lucia procession in Sweden. Lucia-13.12.06.jpg
Saint Lucia procession in Sweden.
Popular devotional image. Santalucia.jpg
Popular devotional image.

Lucy's feast is on 13 December, in Advent. Her feast once coincided with the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, before calendar reforms, so her feast day has become a festival of light. [7]

This is particularly seen in Scandinavian countries, with their long dark winters. There, a young girl dressed in a white dress and a red sash (as the symbol of martyrdom) carries palms and wears a crown or wreath of candles on her head. In Denmark, Norway and Sweden, girls dressed as Lucy carry rolls and cookies in procession as songs are sung. It is said that to vividly celebrate St. Lucy's Day will help one live the long winter days with enough light. [20]

A special devotion to St. Lucy is practiced in the Italian regions of Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige, in the North of the country, and Sicily and Calabria, in the South, as well as in the Croatian coastal region of Dalmatia. The feast is a Catholic-celebrated holiday with roots that can be traced to Sicily. On the 13th of every December it is celebrated with large traditional feasts of home-made pasta and various other Italian dishes, with a special dessert of wheat in hot chocolate milk. The large grains of soft wheat are representative of her eyes and are a treat only to be indulged in once a year. In the north of Italy Saint Lucy brings gift to kids between 12 and 13 December. Traditionally a bouquet of hay is put outside of the house for Lucy's Donkey and food in the house for Lucy to refresh them after the long night bringing gifts to every kid. In small towns, a parade with Saint Lucy is held the evening of the 12th when she goes through the main streets of the town munching sweets and candy from her cart, always together with her donkey.

A Hungarian custom is to plant wheat in a small pot on St. Lucy's feast. By Christmas green sprouts appear, signs of life coming from death. The wheat is then carried to the manger scene as the symbol of Christ in the Eucharist.

In the Philippines, villagers from Barangay Sta. Lucia in Magarao, Camarines Sur, hold a novena to St. Lucy nine days before her feast. A procession of the saint's image is held every morning at the poblacion or village centre during the nine days leading up to St. Lucy's Day, attracting devotees from other parts of the Bicol Region. Hymns to the saint, known as the Gozos, as well as the Spanish version of the Ave Maria are chanted during the dawn procession, which is followed by a Mass.

The feast day is also commemorated in Barangay Sucad in [21] [ circular reference ] Apalit Pampanga after the traditional nine-day novena, where a whole day celebration is observed through Eucharistic Masses, festivals and the procession of the religious sculpture of Sta. Lucia in the evening before the evening Mass.

List of dedications to Saint Lucy





St. Lucy’s Auxiliary to the Blind, an organization that promotes volunteerism, Sponsor of the Bishop of Pittsburgh Medallion Ball, Proceeds go to Blind & Vision Rehabilitation Services.

See also

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  2. 1 2 Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 139
  3. Findlay, Allison. Women in Shakespeare: A Dictionary 2010 p. 234 "(b) The play's setting in Ephesus and its links to Syracuse suggest that, in addition to its associations with light, Luciana's name might invoke memories of St Lucia of Syracuse, who remained a well-known saint in early modern England..."
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  13. 1 2 INM. "Santa Lucia of the gondoliers brought home to Sicily after a millennium". Archived from the original on 24 November 2009.
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  15. Paul, Tessa. The Illustrated World Encyclopedia of Saints.
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  17. "Dante: La Divina Commedia: Notes on Inferno : Henry Fanshawe Tozer : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming". Internet Archive. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  18. See David H. Higgins' commentary in Dante, The Divine Comedy, trans. C.H. Sisson. NY: Oxford University Press, 1993. ISBN   0-19-920960-X. P. 506.
  19. Pinsky, Robert . "Struggling Against the Dark", Slate, 11 December 2012
  20. Swedish Lucia For Dummies. Swedish Institute, 2012.
  21. Apalit
  22. it:Chiesa di Santa Lucia al Sepolcro
  23. "Parish Info".
  24. Thomas Gatt – TG Development. "Santa Lucija (Kappella l-Qadima) – Chapel – Mtarfa, Malta".
  25. "St. Lucy's School".
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