The story of St Lucy, or Santa Lucia, travels in time and across countries and reminds us of how fortunate we are to simply plug key words into a search engine to seek more information. The modern way leaves us vulnerable to less-than-academic research and “hearsay,” but let’s that not allow that to get in the way of this rambling good story.
Imagine, in pre-Christian Scandinavia, the days becoming shorter and shorter until it seemed like the darkness would not end. It must have been daunting, at the very least, and we can imagine that light itself must have seemed like something to worship.
Imagine, in ancient Syracuse, the powerful Mediterannean city-state (located in Sicily but founded by Greeks), a young woman martyred after consecrating her virginity to god and really annoying the man she was supposed to marry. She may or may not have had her eyes gouged out and is usually depicted carrying them on a golden plate. Even without this gruesome, symbolic connection to the idea of “light”, her name sounds like the word in Latin: luce.
After the Middle Ages when St Lucy’s story became famous, the festivals that venerated the last of the light on the shortest days merged with the celebrations of this virgin saint. Nowadays St Lucy’s Day is held on December 13 with processions of young girls in white dresses, wearing floral wreaths and candles around their heads (don’t try that at home!). It sounds very picturesque, in a cold and dark sort of way.
Interestingly, the Venezia Santa Lucia railway station, the main terminus in the historic city of Venice, is the site of the church that was built to hold the remains of Santa Lucia. Her body was briefly held hostage in 1476 by a group of nuns from Corpus Domini, who did not want to hand her over to this new resting place!
When the Santa Lucia church was demolished to make way for the development, the relic was moved to the church of San Geremia. She was kidnapped again in 1981, by thieves demanding ransom, and the body was finally recovered by police on her feast day, December 13. Is it just me or does that sound like a bit of a publicity stunt?
In any case, St Lucy is famous and well loved in her own right, and she is the patron saint of the blind. With her compellingly tragic story and romantic symbols, she is a sweet addition to the mythic figures of the holiday season.