Saint Lucy is an example of a woman so strong in her faith that she pulled her own eyes out before she was martyred.
St. Lucy was born in 283AD to a noble family in Syracuse, Sicily, and her father, of Roman origin, died when she was only five years old. After her mother’s blindness was healed through prayer to St. Agatha, St. Lucy secretly pledged her life to God and to remain a virgin for life, in the tradition of Saint Agatha. Instead of marrying, she planned on distributing her dowry to the poor. Her mother, Eutychia, was unaware that she had pledged herself to God and arranged for St. Lucy to be married to a pagan bridegroom.
St. Lucy is most notably the patron saint of the blind, eye disorders, virgins, the poor, and the city of her birth, Syracuse, Sicily. “Lucy” means “light” or “lucid.” Here are ten fascinating facts about St. Lucy, a martyr who inspired classic literature and Renaissance painters, and is a model for virtuous men and women everywhere.
#1 Saint Lucy Was Stabbed in 304 AD Because She Refused to Marry
When St. Lucy’s rejected suitor discovered her giving her dowry to the poor, he reported her to the Roman authorities, accusing her of being a Christian. Under the rule of Emperor Diocletian, soldiers tried to arrest her, but God made her immovable as a means to protect her. Unable to move her, the soldiers tied her to a team of oxen and attempted to drag her away. That did not work, so the soldiers then decided to burn her alive. They gathered sticks and twigs and placed them around St. Lucy and set the wood on fire. St. Lucy remained unharmed by the flames, even as they grew high around her. She finally died when her rejected suitor stabbed her in her neck with a sword.
#2 Saint Lucy’s “Canonization” Date Is Unknown
The specific date of when St. Lucy’s was considered to become a saint is unclear. She was recognized by the early Christians because of her martyrdom, and by the whole Catholic Church by the 6th century. She lived in a time called “pre-congregation,” which was before the creation of today’s formal process of canonization where the Catholic Church decides whether someone is worthy of universal veneration. In the pre-congregation years, a bishop would often make someone a saint by moving the saint’s remains from the grave to a church. In the case of St. Lucy, we do not know when this was done or when the first bishop otherwise recognized her as a saint.
#3 Saint Lucy’s Veneration Is of a Virgin Martyr
In Sweden, St. Lucy’s feast day is said to mark the beginning of the Christmas celebration. In commemoration of her, the oldest daughter of the family will traditionally rise before dawn, dress up, and wake up her family members serving them baked sweets. She will dress in a white robe, for purity, a red sash for martyrdom, and wear an evergreen wreath on her head lit with candles. Her small brothers, the “Star Boys,” will follow her, wearing white robes and cone-shaped hats with gold stars on them, and carrying star-tipped wands. In some Catholic cultures around the world, the mass on St. Lucy’s feast day will feature one lead girl dressed in a white robe with a red sash, wearing the crown wreath with candles, and the boys will dress as Star Boys.
The tradition of wearing a lighted wreath as a crown is because St. Lucy would wear a wreath lighted with candles on her head when she brought food and supplies to the impoverished Christians hiding in the dark catacombs from persecution. Wearing the lights on her head allowed her to see and also kept her hands free to carry more provisions.
#4 Saint Lucy’s Symbol and Iconography Focuses on Her Holding Her Eyes in a Dish
The symbolism around St. Lucy focuses on her eyes. This is because she lost her eyes during her lifetime, but when she was being buried, people say that her eyes had been replaced and restored. Painted depictions of St. Lucy often show her holding a golden dish with her eyes in the dish. She is sometimes depicted holding a palm branch (symbolizing martyrdom), with a lamp, a dagger, or two oxen.
One account of how St. Lucy lost her eyes was that the Roman governor, Paschasius, had his guards seize St. Lucy and gouge out both of her eyes after she told him that he would face punishment by God because he was a pagan. Paschasius was devoted to the Roman gods of Olympus.
The other account is that St. Lucy tore her own eyes out after her rejected suitor, intent on engaging in a relationship with the chaste St. Lucy, made a comment about the beauty of her eyes. Absolutely devoted to the tradition of St. Agatha, and frustrated with the suitor’s persistence, she tore her eyes out and offered them to the rejected suitor.
#5 Saint Lucy’s Feast Day Celebration Is on December 13th
Her feast day is December 13, the date of her martyrdom.
#6 Saint Lucy’s Remains Are in Venice, Italy and Syracuse, Sicily
The remains of St. Lucy are spread between two cities. The first of these is Venice, Italy, where her remains are currently in the Church of San Geremia (Saint Jeremiah). They arrived in Venice in 1204 after being stolen from Byzantium by Enrico Dandolo, the 41st Dodge of Venice. They were first put into the Church of San Giorgio (Saint George), before being moved in 1313 to the Church of Santa Lucia, a church named in her honor. The Church of Santa Lucia was demolished in 1860 to make way for a railway station, and her remains were sent to the Church of San Geremia.
Some of her remains are in her home city of Syracuse, Sicily. The Basilica di Santa Lucia al Sepolcro (Basilica of Saint Lucy at the Tomb) was built in 110AD, on the spot where St. Lucy was martyred. It is also by where St. Lucy was buried.
In 1988, Duomo di Siracusa (Cathedral of Syracuse) received the left humerus bone of St. Lucy. This relic now lies in a silver reliquary on the second altar in the nave of the cathedral.
#7 The Location of Saint Lucy’s Famous Statue Is in the Vatican
There is a 10ft 4in statue of St. Lucy holding a palm branch on the North Colonnade of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. She has a shrine in Catania, Italy, which is 42 miles from Syracuse, where she died, and there is an ancient Catholic church in Rome dedicated to St. Lucy, called “The Church of Saint Lucy in Selci.”
#8 Saint Lucy Has a Country Named After Her
Aside from the churches which house her remains, the Caribbean island of “Saint Lucia” is named after St. Lucy. This makes the country one of only two in the entire world to be named after a woman. The country also has a major shrine in her honor.
#9 Saint Lucy Appeared in Dante’s Famous Poem, “Divine Comedy”
St. Lucy appears in all three parts of the famous poem, “Divine Comedy,” written by Dante Alighieri. In the first part, “Inferno,” St. Lucy was sent by the Virgin Mary to prompt Beatrice to send Virgil to Dante’s aid. In the second part, “Purgatorio,” St. Lucy carries the sleeping Dante to purgatory. And in the third part, “Paradisio,” Dante portrays her besides Adam.
#10 Saint Lucy Is One of Only 7 Female Saints Listed in the Roman Canon of the Mass
After the consecration of the Eucharist in a Catholic mass, the priest will often mention the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, the 12 apostles, and 27 saints. In addition to St. Lucy, St. Felicity, St. Perpetua, St. Agatha, St. Agnes, St. Cecilia, and St. Anastasia are the only female saints mentioned during the Eucharistic Prayer I.
The story of St. Lucy’s martyrdom is one of the most inspiring tales from early Christianity. A victim of the bitter rule of Emperor Diocletian, she is a powerful reminder that one’s religious faith can survive even in a society that tries to crush it.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Masters Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.