Home > Commemorations/Sanctoral Cycle of the Church Year > Commemoration of St. Lucia: Martyr – Antidote to Holiday Escapism

Commemoration of St. Lucia: Martyr – Antidote to Holiday Escapism

December 13th, 2013
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Domenico Beccafumi, Saint Lucy. Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena. 16th century.

During this time of Advent and Christmas, there are an ever cascading series of commemorations of various Christian saints, and various minor feasts and festivals, providing us with a good “reality check” to what can only be described as escapist types of celebrations of Christmas. What do I mean by that? Many miss the true joy of the season: which is found in prayerful reflection on the Incarnation of our Lord, the light that the darkness does not overcome.

Into a world of sin-filled darkness, comes the One who is our light and our life. We do not escape from the realities of evil that confront us in this present age, rather, we meet them head one: not with endless parties and drinking and gluttony, but with the watchful and waiting perspective of those who recognize that in this world there will be trouble, but we take heart, because Christ has overcome the world. And so, even in the face of a horrible death such as experienced by St. Lucy, we remain steadfast and immoveable in Christ. This is why these various commemorations and minor feasts and festivals are important for us to observe along with the main Sunday festivals of the season. Here is more information about Lucy.

One of the victims of the great persecution under the Roman emperor Diocletian, Lucia met her death at Syracuse on the island of Sicily in the year A.D. 304, because of her Christian faith. Known for her charity, “Santa Lucia” (as she is called in Italy) gave away her dowry and remained a virgin until her execution by the sword. The name Lucia means “light,” and, because of that, festivals of light commemorating her became popular throughout Europe, especially in the Scandinavian countries. There her feast day corresponds with the time of year when there is the least amount of daylight.

O Almighty God, by whose grace and power Your holy servant Lucia triumphed over suffering and remain ever faithful unto death, grant us, who now remember her with thanksgiving, to be so true in our witness to You in this world that we may receive with her new eyes without tears and the crown of light and life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

A virgin and martyr of Syracuse in Sicily, whose feast is celebrated by Latins and Greeks alike on 13 December.

According to the traditional story, she was born of rich and noble parents about the year 283. Her father was of Roman origin, but his early death left her dependent upon her mother, whose name, Eutychia, seems to indicate that she came of Greek stock.

Like so many of the early martyrs, Lucy had consecrated her virginity to God, and she hoped to devote all her worldly goods to the service of the poor. Her mother was not so single-minded, but an occasion offered itself when Lucy could carry out her generous resolutions. The fame of the virgin-martyr Agatha, who had been executed fifty-two years before in the Decian persecution, was attracting numerous visitors to her relics at Catania, not fifty miles from Syracuse, and many miracles had been wrought through her intercession. Eutychia was therefore persuaded to make a pilgrimage to Catania, in the hope of being cured of a hæmorrhage, from which she had been suffering for several years. There she was in fact cured, and Lucy, availing herself of the opportunity, persuaded her mother to allow her to distribute a great part of her riches among the poor.

The largess stirred the greed of the unworthy youth to whom Lucy had been unwillingly betrothed, and he denounced her to Paschasius, the Governor of Sicily. It was in the year 303, during the fierce persecution of Diocletian. She was first of all condemned to suffer the shame of prostitution; but in the strength of God she stood immovable, so that they could not drag her away to the place of shame. Bundles of wood were then heaped about her and set on fire, and again God saved her. Finally, she met her death by the sword. But before she died she foretold the punishment of Paschasius and the speedy termination of the persecution, adding that Diocletian would reign no more, and Maximian would meet his end. So, strengthened with the Bread of Life, she won her crown of virginity and martyrdom.

This beautiful story cannot unfortunately be accepted without criticism. The details may be only a repetition of similar accounts of a virgin martyr’s life and death. Moreover, the prophecy was not realized, if it required that Maximian should die immediately after the termination of his reign. Paschasius, also, is a strange name for a pagan to bear. However, since there is no other evidence by which the story may be tested, it can only be suggested that the facts peculiar to the saint’s story deserve special notice. Among these, the place and time of her death can hardly be questioned; for the rest, the most notable are her connexion with St. Agatha and the miraculous cure of Eutychia, and it is to be hoped that these have not been introduced by the pious compiler of the saint’s story or a popular instinct to link together two national saints. The story, such as we have given it, is to be traced back to the Acta, and these probably belong to the fifth century. Though they cannot be regarded as accurate, there can be no doubt of the great veneration that was shown to St. Lucy by the early church. She is one of those few female saints whose names occur in the canon of St. Gregory, and there are special prayers and antiphons for her in his “Sacramentary” and “Antiphonary”. She is also commemorated in the ancient Roman Martyrology. St. Aldhelm (d. 709) is the first writer who uses her Acts to give a full account of her life and death. This he does in prose in the “Tractatus de Laudibus Virginitatis” (Tract. xliii, P.L., LXXXIX, 142) and again, in verse, in the poem “De Laudibus Virginum” (P.L., LXXXIX, 266). Following him, the Venerable Bede inserts the story in his Martyrology.

With regard to her relics, Sigebert (1030-1112), a monk of Gembloux, in his “sermo de Sancta Lucia”, says that he body lay undisturbed in Sicily for 400 years, before Faroald, Duke of Spoleto, captured the island and transferred the saint’s body to Corfinium in Italy. Thence it was removed by the Emperor Otho I, 972, to Metz and deposited in the church of St. Vincent. And it was from this shrine that an arm of the saint was taken to the monastery of Luitburg in the Diocese of Spires–an incident celebrated by Sigebert himself in verse.

The subsequent history of the relics is not clear. On their capture of Constantinople in 1204, the French found some of the relics in that city, and the Doge of Venice secured them for the monastery of St. George at Venice. In the year 1513 the Venetians presented to Louis XII of France the head of the saint, which he deposited in the cathedral church of Bourges. Another account, however, states that the head was brought to Bourges from Rome whither it had been transferred during the time when the relics rested in Corfinium.

Source: Catholic Encyclopedia

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  1. December 13th, 2009 at 12:41 | #1

    Hi, thanks for this very interesting post. My island, St Lucia, is named after her [I only learnt that just now - after reading your post, I went to check on Wikipedia for more info about the island of St Lucia]; we celebrate National Day on Dec 13 and yes, we also have our Festival of Lights on that day.

  2. Emily Fraiser
    December 13th, 2009 at 14:02 | #2

    Thank you so much for posting this. Our Wed night program for children ages 1st – 6th grade, The Sola Society, is studying Luther’s Christkindl and St. Lucia during the Christmas season. Each child is making a traditional costume and next Wed were are going to the adult Bible study, wearing our costumes, to share what we have learned about St. Lucia. I had to do some looking as some sources I found said that Lutheran’s celebrate this holiday, but I didn’t find anything on the LCMS website. After discussing it with my pastor, I decided to include her in our studies. The children have enjoyed learning something about Christmas time they have never heard before and I believe that St. Lucia is a beautiful reminder of Christ, the light of the world.
    Emily Fraiser – Concordia Lutheran – Louisville, KY

  3. Joanne
    December 13th, 2010 at 19:57 | #3

    The Internet has dozens and dozens of videos of the Swedes celebrating Sankta Lucia. I’ve linked to a six-part concert in a Swedish cathedral. It’s quite lovely. But a video search on Google by Lucia Sweden will get you way more than you can view.


  4. Terry Maher (Past Elder)
    December 14th, 2010 at 00:17 | #4

    I find it ironic that I have heard more about Santa Lucia as a Lutheran than I ever did as an RC, most of which time was before the Revolution, er, Vatican II. I suppose since I’m not Italian and wasn’t in an Italian parish and all the Scandinavians are Lutherans accounts for that.

    The Italian community here, where I did not grow up, has largely left “Little Italy” and St Frances Cabrini parish, comes back once a year for the Santa Lucia Festival, more around the time of her other feast day, 16 September. Back when my wife was alive, we went one year and she won a little plastic Brontosaurus for tossing a ring over a bottle or something. She named it Gwendolyn and I still have it.

    Never did understand the Scandinavian enthusiasm for an Italian saint legend. I think it provided a convenient Christian veneer to keep the old Lussinatta going.

  5. December 14th, 2010 at 21:31 | #5

    Why is she portrayed holding a dish with eyes in it?

  6. Helen
    December 17th, 2010 at 21:58 | #6

    When she was arrested, her punishment was having her eyes plucked out.
    See here: http://issuesetc.org/archive/
    Scroll down to Monday’s program, Pastor Heath Curtis explains about:
    The 4th Century Martyr St. Lucia

  7. Bernard J. Schey
    December 13th, 2012 at 10:57 | #7

    Four or five years ago I wrote our Children’s Advent/Christmas/Epiphany program and based it on Santa Lucia. That is to say, the girl who played Lucia narrated the Christmas story from her late 3rd Century martyr’s perspective in Siracusa/Syracuse in Sicily. Got a crown with candles in it from the Swedes in Lindsborg, KS, and it went rather well. We did leave out most of the brutality which she suffered; however, we left it clear that she did not value her life more than her faith.

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