Saint Lucy, also known as Lucia of Syracuse, or Saint Lucia (Sancta Lucia in Latin), was a Christian martyr who died during the Diocletianic Persecution of the 4th century. Apocryphal texts suggest that Lucy, who hailed from an affluent Sicilian family, had spurned the marriage proposal of a pagan man and had vowed to remain a virgin according to the tradition of St. Agatha. However, in the process, she had angered the suitor, who reported her to the Roman authorities. Lucy was then tortured to death. She is revered as a saint by the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, and Orthodox Churches. She is one of the eight women, along with the Virgin Mary, who are commemorated by name in the ‘Canon of the Mass.’ Saint Lucy's Day, her feast day, is celebrated on December 13 every year. She is the patron saint of Syracuse (Sicily), virgins, and sight.
It is believed that Lucy was born in the year 283, into an affluent Sicilian family. Her father was of Roman descent and died when Lucy was 5 years old. Her mother's name was Eutychia, which suggests that she was of Greek ancestry.
Though left without a father at a tender age, Lucy had inherited a huge dowry. Lucy’s mother wanted Lucy to get married to a rich pagan man.
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Legends about Her Early Life
It is believed that since Lucy was a pious Christian, did not wish to marry a pagan man. She also asked her mother to distribute her dowry among the poor. However, her mother did not do so initially.
As a teenager, Lucy was already committed to a life of celibacy and service to God. Her primary aim was to help the poor.
In addition, she assisted other Catholics hide in the underground catacombs to help them avoid being persecuted. It is believed she would wear a wreath made of candles on her head to find her way through the dark tunnels, as her hands would be full of food and supplies for the people.
Once, Lucy’s mother fell extremely sick due to a bleeding problem. She tried many treatments but none helped. Following this, Lucy asked her mother to visit Saint Agatha’s shrine with her. They both prayed all night at the shrine. However, exhausted, they soon fell asleep at the tomb.
St. Agatha then appeared to Lucy in a dream and told her that her mother had been healed. Saint Agatha also informed Lucy that she would be the pride of Syracuse, where she lived. Lucy’s mother recovered and then distributed their wealth among the poor, on Lucy’s request.
Legends about Her Persecution
The Pagan man who had proposed to Lucy was furious when he heard that Lucy was not only committed to being a virgin but had also given away her dowry to the needy. As his revenge, he reported about Lucy’s faith to Paschasius, the governor of Syracuse, Sicily.
Back then, many Christians were being persecuted for their faith. The governor thus sent his guards to take Lucy away and send her to a brothel, as punishment.
However, when the soldiers came to take her away, they could not move Lucy. When the governor enquired about the reason behind her strength, she claimed it was a result of divine intervention
Finally, they tortured Lucy and wished to burn her to death. The guards gathered wood around her, but even this plan failed, as the wood did not burn. Thus, they pierced her neck with a sword. Lucy thus became a martyr in the year 304.
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According to legends, Lucy had captivating eyes, and the pagan man who had proposed to her loved her eyes.
One version of her story suggests that Lucy had presented her eyes to the pagan man, and had then asked him to leave her alone.
Another version of the story suggests that while being tortured, Lucy had warned Paschasius that he would not go unpunished. On hearing this, an angry Paschasius ordered the guards to gouge her eyes out. However, the story also suggests that God had restored her eyes later.
Though most of her life appears only in legends, it is believed Lucy had most probably died due to the wave of persecution of Christians during Roman emperor Diocletian’s reign. She has been mentioned in early Roman sacramentaries. Her name also appears in an inscription in Syracuse, dating back to 400 C.E. Her early existence can be evidenced by two churches dedicated to her in Britain prior to the 8th century, when the kingdom was mostly pagan.
Legends claim that when her body was being prepared for burial, it was found out that her eyes had been restored.
Sigebert, who was a monk of Gembloux, had written ‘sermo de Sancta Lucia,’ which stated that Lucy's body had remained undisturbed in Sicily for 400 years, until Faroald II, Duke of Spoleto, conquered the island and sent her remains to Abruzzo, Italy.
The remains were later moved to Metz by Emperor Otho I in 972. They were left in the ‘Church of St. Vincent.’
Not much is known about the whereabouts of her body after it was moved to ‘St. Vincent.’ However, claims suggest that pieces of her body can still be found in Italy (Rome, Naples, Lisbon, Verona, and Milan), Germany, Sweden, and France.
Legacy, Popular Culture, & Symbolism
The oldest story that mentions Lucy was part of the 5th-century ‘Acts of the Martyrs.’ The only part that such accounts agree upon is the tale of the angry suitor and Lucy’s subsequent execution in Syracuse.
Her name spread to Rome quickly. By the 6th century, she was being revered by the entire Church. The oldest archaeological evidence about her existence can be found in the Greek inscriptions of the catacombs of ‘St. John’ in Syracuse. Jacobus de Voragine's ‘Legenda Aurea’ was a popular version of the legend of Lucy in the Middle Ages.
Her feast day is celebrated on December 13 every year. In Sweden, St. Lucia’s Day signals the beginning of Christmas celebrations. The eldest daughter of the family is seen dressed in a white robe and wearing a wreath decorated with candles.
Lucy is also revered as the patron saint of Syracuse (Sicily), virgins, and sight (or the blind). Lucy’s name could mean "light" or "lucid." In medieval art, she was shown carrying a golden dish with her eyes on them and holding a palm branch, which is a symbol of triumph over evil. Lucy also appears in Italian poet Dante's ‘Inferno’ and in one of John Donne’s poems.
Lucy is remembered as a courageous young woman who was determined to devote her life to God. Her story teaches people that they should stand their ground even when they are criticized for holding a particular belief or faith.