December 13 – Lucy

Lucy of Syracuse  (ca. 283–ca. 304) lost her father when she was five (I don’t mean in the shopping mall; I mean he died), and was determined not to lose her mother, so when Eutychia (her ma) came down with a bleeding disorder, Lucy trundled her off to the shrine of St. Agatha in nearby Catania (about 65 km north on the E45) to pray. While they were there, Agatha appeared in a dream or vision or on the motel room TV or something, saying to Lucy, “Because of your faith, your mother will be healed, and you will become the glory of Syracuse as I am of Catania” (which strikes me as odd but that’s in all the sources). Lucy told her mother, and convinced her to give a bunch of money to the poor in thanks, which she did.

What Lucy failed to tell her mother was that she intended to remain a virgin and dedicate her life to God. Mama, being a good Sicilian mother (her lasagna was to die for), had found a nice young man for Lucy to marry. When he heard that Lucy’s mother was giving away his bride’s inheritance, he was filled with wrath. Okay maybe he wasn’t such a nice young man. Mothers sometimes make mistakes. (Don’t tell my mom I said that.) He denounced her to the governor, who, after she refused to burn incense to the emperor’s image (it wasn’t even a daguerreotype) (and besides she was a Christian), sentenced her to be defiled in a brothel. Lucy, disliking this plan, planted her feet and refused to budge. They tugged on her, but she didn’t budge. They tied her with ropes and hitched her to 1,000 men and 50 oxen, but she wouldn’t budge. I’m sure we would be forgiven if we imagined her at least smiling at this point, if not laughing out loud. I would have, but then I’m no saint, at least according to my mother.

They gave up the brothel ploy and decided to burn her where she stood, but they were unable to get wood to burn underneath her (or it burned but she was unharmed). Through all of this, Lucy declared that she was not afraid of death, and that her death would strengthen other Christians. They kept telling her to shut up, but she kept not shutting up. She was stabbed in the throat, but rather than shut up, she got personal, and prophesied the downfall of the governor, the emperor, and some other people she might mention. In some sources, her eyes were extracted at this point, although she received a new pair at her burial. Eventually they beheaded her.

In one tradition, she fobbed off her suitor for three years, hiding underground, delivering food to the needy, and wearing candles on her head to find her way. When her fiancé wrote her praising her eyes, she tore them out and sent them to him in a box (FedEx Next Day, of course—eyes are perishable).

In Scandinavian countries, a Santa Lucia pageant is held in schools, churches, and/or homes, in which a girl playing Lucy processes wearing a wreath with candles. (Lucy is one of the few saints to survive the Reformation in Scandinavia[1].) After passing out of fashion somewhat, the pageant came roaring back in 1920s Sweden, and has since found its way to Finland, Denmark, and (back to) Norway. Lucy’s day is also a big deal in Saint Lucia, a tiny Caribbean island nation named after Charlie Brown’s psychiatrist.

Lucy’s relics are among the better-traveled; after two stops in mainland Italy and one in Constantinople, most of her bones now lie in Venice, although an arm made it to Speyer and her head is in Bourges. Her relics in Venice were stolen by thieves in November of 1981, but were recovered on her feast day five weeks later. She is the patron saint of the blind, those with eye troubles, and Syracuse (the real one, in Sicily).


[1] She hid in the cellar.