by Katie Daniels
During December in Boston, four o’clock in the afternoon often looks more like ten o’clock at night. Darkness falls earlier and earlier as we move closer to the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. In the old Julian calendar, the Winter Solstice fell on December 13. It made sense to the early Christians then, to celebrate the feast day of a saint whose name derives from lux, or “light,” on December 13, a day when we need light more than ever.
St. Lucy was one of the virgin martyrs of early Christianity. Born in Syracuse in 283 to wealthy parents of Roman and Greek ancestry, she consecrated her virginity to God at young age. Her father
died when she was only five years old, leaving his wife and daughter with no protective guardians. Unaware of her daughter’s vow and eager to secure a male protector, Lucy’s mother arranged an
engagement with a wealthy young man from a pagan family.
Because her mother suffered from a bleeding disorder, Lucy persuaded her to make a pilgrimage to the nearby shrine of St. Agatha of Sicily, another virgin martyr. There, St. Agatha visited Lucy in a dream and promised that because of her faith, Lucy’s mother would be cured. Her mother was so grateful to be healed that she allowed Lucy to distribute her dowry among the poor. Lucy’s betrothed, however, was not as pleased to discover Lucy’s vow of virginity. He denounced her as a Christian to the governor of Sicily, who commanded Lucy to burn a sacrifice to the emperor’s image.
When Lucy refused, he ordered that she be defiled in a brothel. But when the guards came to take her away, they found that they could not move her, even when they hitched her to a team of fifty oxen. They piled wood around her and lit it on fire, but she refused to burn and instead spoke unceasingly about Christ. One soldier thrust his spear through her throat to get her to stop, but she continued to talk. Lucy only died once she had received the Eucharist.
Her story is first mentioned in Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legends, a medieval collection of saint’s lives. It was also around this time in the Middle Ages that her feast day was set on December 13th. Especially in Scandinavian countries, celebrating St. Lucy’s Day was believed to guarantee enough light to last through the long winters. In Sweden, the oldest daughter dresses up as St. Lucy by wearing a white dress and a red sash, as a symbol of martyrdom. She wakes up early and greets her family by singing and serving them coffee and special buns made with saffron. In other St. Lucy’s Day celebrations, girls wear crowns of candles on their heads. According to legend, Lucy helped the Christians who hid in catacombs to escape persecution under Emperor Diocletian. She would attach candles to a wreath on her head, freeing up her hands to carry them supplies and, quite literally, lighting the way for the early Christians.
Prayer to St. Lucy:
O God, our Creator and Redeemer, mercifully hear our prayers that as we venerate your servant, Saint Lucy, for the light of faith you bestowed upon her, you would increase and preserve this same light in our souls that we may be able to avoid evil, to do good, and to abhor nothing so much as the blindness and the darkness of evil and of sin. Relying on your goodness, O God, we humbly ask you, by the intercessory prayers of your servant, Saint Lucy, that you would give perfect vision to our eyes, that they may serve for your greater honor and glory and for the salvation of our souls in this world, that we may come to the enjoyment of your unfailing light of the Lamb of God in paradise. Saint Lucy, virgin and martyr, hear our prayers and obtain our petitions.