Saint Lucy of Syracuse, Virgin and Martyr
Liturgical Color: Red
Patron Saint of virgins, the blind, and Syracuse, Sicily
A garden enclosed, no man would lock her in his embrace
Today’s saint is one of only eight women (Mary included) commemorated in Eucharistic Prayer I: “Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia, and all the Saints…” It was Pope Saint Gregory the Great (590–604), familiar with the Christian traditions of Sicily through his family, who inserted the names of the Sicilian virgin martyrs, Agatha and Lucy, into the Roman Canon. There is no doubt that an ancient cult to a woman named Lucy is connected with the city of Syracuse, Sicily, and that this devotion spread throughout Europe in the fourth through sixth centuries. Beyond that, however, there is no near-contemporary historical record verifying any facts of Lucy’s life or death. It is the preservation of her name in the Mass, more than anything else, which has secured Lucy’s place in the Catholic tradition.
Saint Lucy was killed during the Diocletian persecution in the early fourth century. Legends long post-dating her death state that Lucy was doomed to execution after a disgruntled pagan admirer exposed her as a Christian. A gruesome medieval addition holds that Lucy gouged out her own eyes prior to her execution to deter a suitor who delighted in their beauty. Another tradition states that Lucy could not be dragged to her execution site even by a team of oxen, so the guards piled wood all around her to devour her flesh with flames—but the kindling refused to ignite! Frustrated, one of the soldiers then thrust his sharp sword deep into her throat, bringing her brief life to a grisly end.
It is likely that since Lucy was born to Christian parents, she went on pilgrimage as a child to the shrine of Saint Agatha, a fellow Sicilian, in nearby Catania. Perhaps the witness of the virgin martyr Agatha, who perished about fifty years prior to Lucy’s time, inspired little Lucy to be similarly heroic when her own hour came. One legend states that Agatha appeared to Lucy in a dream, telling her that one day she, Lucy, would be the glory of Syracuse. For over a millennium, Lucy’s Feast Day of December 13 fell very close to the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. But the Gregorian calendar reform of 1582 corrected a ten day drift between the calendar and scientific reality, leaving December 13 now eight days before the Solstice. Lucy’s symbolic resonance as a source of light in a dark season persists, despite the calendar correction distancing her feast day from winter’s blackest hour. Somewhat curiously, Sweden’s long-dormant Catholic heritage reasserts itself on December 13, a long winter night when Swedes gladly celebrate a saint whose Latin name evokes light and purity.
As the age of martyrdom waned with Chistianity’s legalization, the untouched body of the virgin, not a bloody death, became the most potent expression of Christian sacrifice. The virgin’s body was the untouched desert. It bore the wax seal of the soul’s original, untarnished perfection and was a precious gift blessed by Christ. The intact flesh of all celibates, virgins, and continent men and women stood out as oases of freedom in a world otherwise enslaved by carnal desire. Virgins such as Lucy were the pride of the early Church, the unplucked harps whose self-control was a cause of wonder to the broader pagan society. The virgin’s uncorrupted body was like a human votive candle, its pure flame burning through the long night of the world until Christ slowly dawned over the horizon at His Second Coming. That such a refined blue flame was so abruptly blown out by the executioner’s breath was shocking and memorable. We remember it still today.
Saint Lucy, you died young and innocent, unfamiliar with the world save for its savagery. May your double martyrdom, to the flesh and to life itself, inspire all youth to see Christ and His promises as worth sacrificing to attain.