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 the last great 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, whence 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 Dictionary of Saints
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 icon of Saint Lucy was written by and is © Aidan Hart and is reproduced here with his generous permission.