According to tradition, Saint Lucy was born near the end of the 3rd century in Syracuse, Sicily, to a Roman father (who would die while she was quite young) and a Greek mother, Eutychia. The traditional stories describe the family as wealthy and connected to nobility, but from an early age the pious Lucy hoped to devote all her time and worldly goods to doing God's work and helping the poor.
However, Eutychia had Lucy unwilling betrothed to a pagan man. Lucy begged her mother to let her remain an unwed virgin and instead give the money of her dowry to the poor. Tradition holds that after Eutychia was miraculously cured of an ongoing hemorrhage when she visited the relics of St. Agatha (who had been martyred 50 years before) with Lucy, she granted her daughter's request.
The pagan bridegroom however, did not take kindly to the betrothal being ended, and was angered when he learned the money and jewels of Lucy's dowry were being distributed. It is said that, incensed by these events, the man denounced Lucy as a Christian to the governor during the time of the especially fierce Diocletian persecutions. Lucy was ordered to burn a sacrifice in honor of the Emperor. When she refused, she was sentenced to be put in a brothel to be defiled.
Hearing her sentence, Lucy is said to have remained unafraid and merely replied, “No one's body is polluted so as to endanger the soul if it has not pleased the mind. If you were to lift my hand to your idol and so make me offer against my will, I would still be guiltless in the sight of the true God, who judges according to the will and knows all things. If now, against my will, you cause me to be polluted, a twofold purity will be gloriously imputed to me. You cannot bend my will to your purpose; whatever you do to my body, that cannot happen to me.”
When the soldiers came to transport Lucy, the young woman was so filled with Holy Spirit that she had become quite immovable, heavy and stiff as a mountain. They were unable to drag her from her spot even when they tied her to a team of oxen. Since the soldiers could not move Lucy, they resolved to kill her on the spot. She suffered her eyes being cut out and she was covered with oil and burned before her persecutors were able to kill her by sword.
Often in the case of early martyrs, oral tradition about a saint’s life may be expanded on after their death, leaving the hard facts unclear. The location of Lucy’s relics and the fact that records indicate her veneration in the early Church, not long after her death, attest to her existence. The saint was included in the Acts of the Martyrs (a document believed to have been compiled in the 5th century) but the first full, written account of her life was penned in the year 709.
The time and place of Lucy’s death are known, but the details of her life and how she was killed cannot be known for sure. To be denounced and turned over to the governor by a “jilted” pagan bridegroom is certainly not improbable, but it is generally believed that details, such as the legend that her eyesight was restored just before her death, were later additions to the oral tradition of her story.
Saint Lucy Day (St. Lucia Day)
The Feast of St. Lucy is a rather celebrated event in Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland) and some American states and cities with significant Scandinavian heritage. Because she is the patron saint of the city of Syracuse in Italy, Lucy’s feast day is also a festive occasion there. In the Scandinavian countries she is known as Santa Lucia. The day is popularly called “Santa Lucia Day” or “St. Lucy Day,” rather than the Feast of Saint Lucy.
The traditional celebration typically taking place at churches, involves a procession of girls and young women. They are dressed in white robes as a symbol of purity and carry candles to symbolize the fire that was not able to take Santa Lucia’s life. One girl is elected to be St. Lucia and she leads the procession wearing a crown of candles (usually electric candles in modern day).
Because her feast day falls so near to Christmas, some Lucia Day traditions, which developed in the 1700s and beyond, are somewhat blended with Christmas traditions. For example, the girl who is elected to be St. Lucy will hand out candy canes or sweets and pastries. Additionally, boys are often included in processions, dressed in robes and called “star boys,” or dressed as elf-like creatures called “tomtenissar” (Santa’s little helpers) or gingerbread men.
A Prayer to St. Lucy
O Saint Lucy,
whose name means light, full of confidence we present ourselves before you, to ask of you a holy light, which may render us cautious in avoiding the ways of sin and escaping the darkness of error.
We beg also, through your intercession, for the preservation of the light of our eyes, together with abundant grace to use it always in accordance with the will of God and without injury to our souls. Grant, O blessed Lucy, that, after venerating and thanking you for your powerful patronage on earth, we may come at last to rejoice with you in the paradise of the eternal light of the divine Lamb, your sweet spouse Jesus.