St. Lucy of Syracuse
Born: c. 290 A.D.
Died: 304 A.D.
Patronage: The blind, maladies of the eyes
Upon entering our family home, to the right, on the wall above the closet, was an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary with the invocation, “God bless our Home.” And to the left hung a black placard with a small silver figurine of a heavily clad woman with the inscription next to it, Santa Lucia, proteggi la casa nostra. It was always obvious what the picture of Jesus and Mary was there for; it was not, however, so clear what that black placard was for. Later I learned that the inscription meant, “Saint Lucy, protect our home.” While it certainly seemed appropriate to invoke the intercession of any saint to pray for the protection of our home, why Saint Lucy of all people? Thus began my lifelong fascination with and devotion to this early Christian martyr.
A neighbouring village to my family’s own village in Italy is Sassinoro- a mere 15 minutes away by car- though in an entirely different province and region than our own. As is customary in every Italian village no matter how small, the main church sanctuary of Sassinoro is dedicated to Santa Lucia- Saint Lucy. There was an annual pilgrimage between our town and theirs each year in veneration of our respective saints and so the people of our village were almost as devoted to Saint Lucy as they were to their own Saint Cristina; hence why even in our respective family homes in Canada, our grandparents ensured both great saints were equally represented.
Lucy was born to a wealthy and noble family in Syracuse, in the Kingdom of Sicily, near to the end of the third century. Having come to the Christian faith as a young girl of her own accord, it was essential that she kept that to herself, having been born during the height of the Diocletian persecution of Christians. As still a young girl, she vowed her life and virginity to Christ, unbeknownst to her parents. When her mother had arranged for her to be wed to another wealthy and much older suitor, Lucy was devastated. Her role model had already become another heroic virgin and martyr, Saint Agatha. Lucy devised a plan to convince her mother that she was right in choosing to devote her life to Christ.
Her mother had been suffering from a mysterious bleeding disorder for which there appeared to be no treatment. Young herself and desiring to live, she was willing to try anything. Lucy convinced her mother to keep vigil with her one night at the tomb of St. Agatha. While they both slept there, Agatha appeared to Lucy in her dream to announce that, not only would her mother awake and be cured, but that Lucy would become the glory of Syracuse by way of her own martyrdom. Upon waking, Lucy’s mother instantly knew that she had been made well, but for her part, Lucy kept the rest of the revelation a secret.
In thanksgiving for her cure, it is said that Lucy convinced her mother to distribute what would have been her hefty dowry among the poor as she would not be needing it when she gave herself as a bride to Christ. Despite not having experienced her own conversion, Lucy’s mother still agreed and complied. The young man, who not only had been promised Lucy’s hand in marriage but also that inheritance, was outraged. He reported her to the Roman authorities as a Christian and was satisfied to watch the soldiers come to drag her away. To their surprise, however, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, Lucy became immovable. Even hitching her to a team of oxen proved futile in attempting to move her. They eventually resorted to piling wood around her in the place where she stood in order to burn her to death there, but the wood simply would not catch fire. All who were witness to this were stunned, most of all, her would-be-husband.
Approaching her to try and win her heart more delicately, it is said he began to shower compliments upon her, to beg her forgiveness for turning her in and request that she reconsider taking his hand in marriage. She remained silent. As he continued to implore her on account of her beauty, he began to fixate on her eyes which he claimed were what attracted him to her most desperately. As legend has it, in a horrifying act of defiance, Lucy is said to have removed her own eyes to give them to him. Repulsed by this gesture, the guards attacked her with swords finally managing to put her to death. It was this alleged gesture which has won for her innumerable depictions in art as carrying her own eyes on a platter in front of her, while always being depicted as still living with her eyes very obviously in her head. It is said that, despite the mutilation to which she subjected herself, when her body was prepared for burial, her eyes were still in their sockets. For this reason, St. Lucy remains the most renowned patroness for the blind and those suffering from maladies of the eyes.
In actual fact, the origin of her name means ‘light’ or ‘lucid’. It conjures up the image employed by our Lord in the Gospel, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light…” (Mt. 6: 22). The light of Christ is said to have radiated from the resplendent eyes of His servant, Lucy, whose feast, celebrated among the darkest days of the northern hemisphere, helps to prepare us for that solitary source of Light, Jesus Christ, whose imminent birth into the world scatters all the darkness.
St. Lucy, pray for us!