St. Lucy: Eye Has Not Seen…

saint-lucy-sassoferatoThe 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!

St. Agatha: A “Good” Patron for Pretty Much Everything

"Saint Peter Healing Agatha" by Giovanni Lanfranco
“Saint Peter Healing Agatha” by Giovanni Lanfranco

As I was writing this article, I realized that I’ve gotten a little out of order from the list that’s presented in the Roman Canon. Today, we have St. Agatha, who, like St. Agnes, is in that group of “virgin martyrs.” Not a lot is known about her life from a historical standpoint, but she is one of the most highly venerated saints, even from the time of the early Church. Very old, and very straightforward accounts were given of her interrogation and torture, which may indicate that the account was acquired from official documents of the Roman government. This account was later expanded upon, and gives us the legends we have today.

St. Agatha was born in Catania, Sicily around 231 to a noble family. At the age of 15, she rejected the advances of a certain Quintianus, a Roman prefect in Sicily – that’s the virgin part. The martyr part came when he arrested her, first sending her to a brothel to be humiliated, before sending her off to prison. It was there that she underwent numerous painful tortures and mutilations, even going so far as to cut off her breasts. In fact, this is how she is usually depicted in paintings and icons. She was then sentenced to burn at the stake.

Wouldn’t you know it, but an earthquake saved her from this fate, leaving her to be thrown into prison a second time. The story goes that while suffering in prison, St. Peter the Apostle and an angel appeared to her, healing her of her wounds and mutilations to purify her before God. She eventually succumbed to her brutal treatment, and died in prison in the year 251. Before she died, she devoutly prayed, “Lord, my creator, you have protected me since I was in the cradle. You have taken me from the love of the world and given me patience to suffer. Now receive my spirit.”

Even in the short time after her death, she became an example for the Christian Church, and was highly venerated, even outside of Sicily. She became the patroness of both Catania and Palermo, with powerful intercessions reported to those who venerated her. Even just a year after her death, she was credited with stilling the nearby volcano of Mt. Etna as it seemed ready to erupt. Since then, she has become the patroness of just about everything, from foundry workers to firefighters to those suffering from breast cancer. Shortly after her death, a shrine was built in her honor at Catania, most likely over her tomb, and as we’ll see, she had a great impact on other Christians living in Sicily as well!

St. Agnes: A Lamb Without Blemish

stagnes-stanneswpb3Today we move on to another saintly woman in the Roman Canon, St. Agnes. She was 12 years old when we catch up with her traditions, and was raised in a Christian family during the reign of Diocletian. Because of her high social rank, she held many suitors, with many men wanting to take advantage of her. Agnes, though, made a vow to the Lord early on, and she dedicated herself to being chaste, responding to her suitors with, “Jesus Christ is my only spouse.” The governor’s son, Procop, sought her out especially, buying her jewelry and other expensive gifts, and making her promises of power if she would take his hand in marriage. St. Agnes continued to deny him, and so Procop reported her to the prefect, a man named Sempronius, accusing her of being a Christian.

When you tell others that you have promised your marriage to Christ alone, it’s pretty clear that you’re a Christian, and so when Agnes was convicted, she was dragged naked through the streets of Rome to a brothel as punishment. As the Roman Martyrology states, an angel protected her, and it was said that any man who tried to abuse or take her virginity from her was struck blind. Ultimately, St. Agnes was sentenced to death by burning her at the stake in the arena. When the wood refused to burn, the presiding Roman officer drew his sword and dispatched her.

The body of St. Agnes was laid to rest along the Via Nomentana (where St. Alexander was buried, remember?!?), and devotion to her quickly spread throughout Rome. Her sister, St. Emerentiana, was discovered praying at the grave on the anniversary of her martyrdom, and when she refused to leave, she was martyred as well! Several years later, St. Constance, the daughter of the great Emperor Constantine, was miraculously cured of leprosy while praying at St. Agnes’ tomb. The church of Sant’Agnese fuori le mura (St. Agnes Outside the Walls) was built over her tomb. Her skull is preserved as well at Sant’Agnese in Agone, built near the Piazza Navona over the supposed site of her martyrdom.

Interestingly, the name “Agnes” looks a lot like the Latin word Agnus, which means “lamb”. Who knows if this was intentional or a mistake, but a white lamb has come to be a symbol for St. Agnes. Each year, two lambs belonging to a Roman monastery are sheered on her feast day to make the wool pallium, a small vestment given to newly consecrated archbishops as they are officially instituted by Pope Francis on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul (June 29). Archbishop Carlson received his pallium from Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.

St. Agnes is considered one of the “virgin martyrs”, a special class of the saints similar to the soldier martyrs we discussed with Sts. John and Paul. Even the name “Agnes” comes from the Greek word meaning “chaste” or “pure”. Sometimes, it can be easy to think of chastity as being for “goody two-shoes”, and to assume that people follow chastity because they are scared or boring. The truth is that there is happiness and joy in being pure and holy, and these virgin saints are wonderful examples of this.

Saints of the Roman Canon: St. Cecilia

St. Cecilia, Patroness of Musicians Look at the little organ she's playing!
St. Cecilia, Patroness of Musicians
Look at the little organ she’s playing!

Continuing with our string of “virgin martyrs”, this week we have St. Cecilia, a Roman noblewoman of a senatorial family.  She was baptized as an infant (see, they even had infant baptisms in the early Church!), and when she came of age, she was given in marriage to a pagan man named Valerianus.

Now after the wedding, as the couple went to their wedding chamber, Cecilia told Valerianus that she was already betrothed to Christ, and that the angels guarded her purity.  Valerianus asked to see these angels (sarcastically, I could imagine), so Cecilia sent him to meet Pope Urban I along the Appian Way so Valerianus could see why she had become betrothed to Christ.  He did as she said, and was so taken by the faith preached by Urban and witnessed by Cecilia, that he and his brother Tiburtius were both baptized into the faith.  The three of them became outstanding examples of Christian friendship, and did amazing things together.  They distributed alms to the poor and buried the bodies of those who had been martyred for Christ.

All this caught the attention of the authorities, who dispatched an executioner named Maximus to put the brothers to death.  But Maximus was so moved by their incredible faith and acts of charity, that he laid down his sword, confessed faith in Christ, and was himself martyred alongside Tiburtius and Valerianus.

"The Martyrdom of Saint Cecilia" by Stefano Maderno The sculpture is displayed in Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, commemorating the opening of her tomb in 1599
“The Martyrdom of Saint Cecilia” by Stefano Maderno
The sculpture is displayed in Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, commemorating the opening of her tomb in 1599

Cecilia was likewise captured and condemned to death by suffocation in the bath of her own home.  This is the bath as we would normally think of, but a Roman-style steam bath, almost like a sauna.  As it turned out, no matter how hot the bath became, or much suffocating steam filled the room, Cecilia resisted all day and all night.  When the executioners became frustrated, Cecilia met her martyrdom by beheading.  Pope Urban I recovered her body and buried it next to her friends in the Catacombs of St. Callistus along the Appian Way.

Today, the beautiful church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere houses her remains.  It is one of the titular churches, which as you might remember were the original parish churches in Rome.  The church has a very interesting history dating back to the saint herself.  The tradition holds that as Cecilia was facing her death, she donated her home to the Church to be used as a place of worship.  The present Church is built over that home, which as you recall, is also the site of her martyrdom.  Excavations in the 1800’s by the famous archaeologist Giovanni Battista de Rossi discovered the house’s foundations under the present-day church, confirming the tradition, at least in some part.

St. Cecilia is most commonly invoked as the patroness of musicians because it is said that at her wedding, while people were singing pagan songs in celebration, she “was singing in her heart a hymn of love to Jesus, her true spouse.”  Here at All Saints, we are reminded of her example by the painting above the organ in the choir loft of the church.  Today, as we remember St. Cecilia’s great example of friendship and devotion, let’s ask her prayers as well for our musicians, that they too would lead us in singing a hymn of love to Christ!

Saints of the Roman Canon: St. Lucy

saint-lucy-sassoferatoThe 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 has 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 governer 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!

Saints of the Roman Canon: St. Agatha

"Saint Peter Healing Agatha" by Giovanni Lanfranco
“Saint Peter Healing Agatha” by Giovanni Lanfranco

Today, we have St. Agatha, who, like St. Agnes, is in that group of “virgin martyrs.”  Not a lot is known about her life from a historical standpoint, but she is one of the most highly venerated saints, even from the time of the early Church.  Very old, and very straightforward accounts were given of her interrogation and torture, which may indicate that the account was acquired from official documents of the Roman government.  This account was later expanded upon, and gives us the legends we have today.

St. Agatha was born in Catania, Sicily around 231 to a noble family.  At the age of 15, she rejected the advances of a certain Quintianus, a Roman prefect in Sicily – that’s the virgin part.  The martyr part came when he arrested her, first sending her to a brothel to be humiliated, before sending her off to prison.  It was there that she underwent numerous painful tortures and mutilations, even going so far as to cut off her breasts.  In fact, this is how she is usually depicted in paintings and icons.  She was then sentenced to burn at the stake.

Wouldn’t you know it, but an earthquake saved her from this fate, leaving her to be thrown into prison a second time.  The story goes that while suffering in prison, St. Peter the Apostle and an angel appeared to her, healing her of her wounds and mutilations to purify her before God.  She eventually succumbed to her brutal treatment, and died in prison in the year 251.  Before she died, she devoutly prayed, “Lord, my creator, you have protected me since I was in the cradle. You have taken me from the love of the world and given me patience to suffer. Now receive my spirit.”

Even in the short time after her death, she became an example for the Christian Church, and was highly venerated, even outside of Sicily.  She became the patroness of both Catania and Palermo, with powerful intercessions reported to those who venerated her.  Even just a year after her death, she was credited with stilling the nearby volcano of Mt. Etna as it seemed ready to erupt.  Since then, she has become the patroness of just about everything, from foundry workers to firefighters to those suffering from breast cancer.  Shortly after her death, a shrine was built in her honor at Catania, most likely over her tomb, and as we’ll see, she had a great impact on other Christians living in Sicily as well!

Saints of the Roman Canon: St. Agnes

stagnes-stanneswpb3Today we move on to another saintly woman in the Roman Canon, St. Agnes.  She was 12 years old when we catch up with her traditions, and was raised in a Christian family during the reign of Diocletian.  Because of her high social rank, she held many suitors, with many men wanting to take advantage of her.  Agnes, though, made a vow to the Lord early on, and she dedicated herself to being chaste, responding to her suitors with, “Jesus Christ is my only spouse.”  The governor’s son, Procop, sought her out especially, buying her jewelry and other expensive gifts, and making her promises of power if she would take his hand in marriage.  St. Agnes continued to deny him, and so Procop reported her to the prefect, a man named Sempronius, accusing her of being a Christian.

When you tell others that you have promised your marriage to Christ alone, it’s pretty clear that you’re a Christian, and so when Agnes was convicted, she was dragged naked through the streets of Rome to a brothel as punishment.  As the Roman Martyrology states, an angel protected her, and it was said that any man who tried to abuse or take her virginity from her was struck blind.  Ultimately, St. Agnes was sentenced to death by burning her at the stake in the arena.  When the wood refused to burn, the presiding Roman officer drew his sword and dispatched her.

The body of St. Agnes was laid to rest along the Via Nomentana (where St. Alexander was buried, remember?!?), and devotion to her quickly spread throughout Rome.  Her sister, St. Emerentiana, was discovered praying at the grave on the anniversary of her martyrdom, and when she refused to leave, she was martyred as well!  Several years later, St. Constance, the daughter of the great Emperor Constantine, was miraculously cured of leprosy while praying at St. Agnes’ tomb.  The church of Sant’Agnese fuori le mura (St. Agnes Outside the Walls) was built over her tomb.  Her skull is preserved as well at Sant’Agnese in Agone, built near the Piazza Navona over the supposed site of her martyrdom.

Interestingly, the name “Agnes” looks a lot like the Latin word Agnus, which means “lamb”.  Who knows if this was intentional or a mistake, but a white lamb has come to be a symbol for St. Agnes.  Each year, two lambs belonging to a Roman monastery are sheered on her feast day to make the wool pallium, a small vestment given to newly consecrated archbishops when they are officially instituted by the pope on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul (June 29).  Archbishop Carlson received his pallium from Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.

St. Agnes is considered one of the “virgin martyrs”, a separate class of the saints similar to the soldier martyrs we discussed with Sts. John and Paul.  Even the name “Agnes” comes from the Greek word meaning “chaste” or “pure”.  Sometimes, it can be easy to think of chastity as being for “goody two-shoes”, and to assume that people follow chastity because they are scared or boring.  The truth is that there is happiness and joy in being pure and holy, and these virgin saints are wonderful examples of this.