Lucy, Martyr at Syracuse, ca 304

Sancta Lucia, written and © Aidan Hart

Lucy (Lucia), whose name means “light”, lived at the end of the third century in Sicily and died as a martyr at Syracuse, probably in persecution ordered by the emperor Diocletian.  Her memory was venerated at an early date, and she is included in the eucharistic canons of the Roman and Ambrosian rites and is found in the Roman sacramentaries and in Greek liturgical books.  Two ancient churches were dedicated to her in England, where she has been known at least from the time of Aldhelm, abbot of Malmesbury, who praised her in his treatise on virginity in the late seventh century.

It is said that her life was one of purity and gentleness, and she was loved by the poor for her selfless generosity.  Legends about her abound.  When her mother was cured of a disease, Lucy in gratitude to God gave all her bridal possessions to the Christian poor.  Her disappointed betrothed then reported her as a Christian to the local prefect, who condemned her to be arrested and to be taken to a brothel.  When she would not submit to sexual defilement, her persecutors built a fire around her to frighten her into submission.  She was finally killed by being stabbed in the neck, probably in the year 304 at Syracuse.  Her body was taken to Venice; according to legend her relics were translated to Corfinium in the eighth century and to Metz in the late tenth century.

Lucy is remembered with great affection by the people of Sicily and southern Italy.  She is regarded as the patron saint of the laboring poor and of those suffering from diseases of the eyes.  Her iconography is based on her legendary Acts, her usual emblem being her own eyes, which were reputed to have been torn out during her torments and to have been miraculously restored.  This element occurs particularly in Western late medieval and Renaissance representations.  The earliest surviving image is a simple one in the frieze of virgins in the sixth century mosaics of S. Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna (she appears in the procession of virgins under her name,  SCA LVCIA).  She is included in the General Roman Calendar, in several Lutheran sanctoral calendars, and in the calendar of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

In medieval Europe, before the Gregorian reform of the calendar, St Lucy’s Day was the shortest day of the year, and the day was celebrated, especially in Scandinavia, as the turning point from the long nights.  The Swedes, including many Swedish immigrants in America, still have festivities on this day, “Lussida’n”.  In private homes one of the young girls of the household, dressed in white and wearing a crown of lighted candles, awakens the family in the early morning and offers them coffee and cakes from a tray.  For the rest of the day she is called “Lussi” instead of her own name.

taken from the New Book of Festivals and Commemorations (Fortress Press 2008), amended and with additions from The Oxford Book of Saints

The Collect

Almighty God, by whose grace and power your holy martyr Lucy triumphed over suffering and was faithful even to death: Grant us, who now remember her in thanksgiving, to be so faithful in our witness to you in this world, that we may receive with her the crown of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Lesson
Song of Solomon 8:6-7

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm,
for love is strong as death,
jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
the very flame of the Lord.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If a man offered for love
all the wealth of his house,
he would be utterly despised.

Psalm 45:11-18
Eructavit cor meum

“Hear, O daughter; consider and listen closely; *
forget your people and your father’s house.

The king will have pleasure in your beauty; *
he is your master; therefore do him honor.

The people of Tyre are here with a gift; *
the rich among the people seek your favor.”

All glorious is the princess as she enters; *
her gown is cloth of gold.

In embroidered apparel she is brought to the king; *
after her the bridesmaids follow in procession.

With joy and gladness they are brought, *
and enter into the palace of the king.

“In place of fathers, O king, you shall have sons; *
you shall make them princes over all the earth.

I will make your name to be remembered
from one generation to another; *
therefore nations will praise you for ever and ever.”

The Gospel
John 3:17-21

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

The scripture texts of the Lesson and Gospel are taken from the English Standard Version Bible. The Collect and Psalm are taken from the Book of Common Prayer (1979).

The icon of Saint Lucy is from Aidan Hart’s gallery of Western Orthodox saints.

Frieze of Virgins, S. Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna


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