The next on our list of “virgin martyr” saints is St. Lucy. Really, all that is known for sure about her is that she was martyred in Syracuse around 304 under the Great Persecution of Diocletian. However, our traditions from the Middle Ages have a lot more to say about her life.
According to these traditions, she was born of a noble family around 283. Her father was Roman, but he died when Lucy was still only five years old, leaving her in the care of her Greek mother, Eutychia. Lucy, like many of the early virgin martyrs, promised herself to Christ at a young age, but her mother had no idea. Imagine: a child not telling her mother about something – I bet that’s never happened before! The tradition also has it that Eutychia suffered from some form of blood disorder, so without a father to protect the family, she likely was looking for some security and stability for her family, which she sought by marrying off her daughter Lucy.
Remember how we mentioned last week that veneration of St. Agatha quickly spread throughout Sicily and the rest of the Church? Well, even a few decades later, Eutychia and Lucy travelled to her shrine in Catania to pray for the saint’s intercession for a cure to Eutychia’s blood disease. St. Agatha came to Lucy in a dream, and told her that because of Lucy’s faith, her mother would be cured, and that she herself would become the glory of Syracuse, just as Agatha was for Catania. Lucy was so inspired and thankful that she chose to distribute her part of her family’s inheritance to the poor.
Now remember that whole thing about being the new St. Agatha for Syracuse? She remembered that Agatha was martyred, right? When her betrothed saw her giving away her wealth, he assumed that she was giving away money to be used for her dowry. He reported her to the governor of Syracuse, who ordered Lucy to offer sacrifice to the emperor’s image – the typical test for Christians during the Diocletian persecution. When she refused, can you imagine what they did? You guessed it – they tried to drag her off to be defiled in a brothel.
The soldiers meant to drag her to the brothel behind a team of oxen, but miraculously, they couldn’t budge her from the spot! They then tried to burn her at the stake, but she wouldn’t burn! Some traditions say that the soldiers gouged out her eyes (a tradition often represented in artwork by her holding a platter of her own eyes!). Ultimately, St. Lucy was put to death by the sword, and offered the martyr’s crown like her patroness, St. Agatha.
Lucy’s dream was indeed true – her veneration exploded throughout the Church. Her name appeared in our Eucharistic Prayers by the 6th century, if not before. Her feast day (Dec. 13) has also been venerated as far away as England by the 700’s. Even today, her feast is celebrated as a holiday in Italy, Scandinavia, and elsewhere. In the celebrations, a girl dressed as St. Lucy enters the party wearing a crown of candles, and presenting bread and sweets to those present. Her name, “Lucia” comes from the Latin word meaning “light”, so she does indeed represent a light of hope in darkness during one of the darkest (seasonal) times of the year!