Saint Agatha had been martyred 50 years earlier, during the persecution of the Emperor Decius. Her shrine was at Catania, about 50 miles from Syracuse. It attracted many pilgrims and many miracles were reported to have happened. St. Lucy’s mother decided to make the pilgrimage, in hopes of a cure for a longstanding disease. While there, St. Agatha appeared to St. Lucy in a dream and told her that because of her faith her mother would be cured, and that Lucy would be the glory of Syracuse. Her mother was miraculously cured, and Lucy took the opportunity to reveal her vow of virginity, and her wish to distribute her riches among the poor. Her mother, in gratitude for her miraculous recovery, left Lucy free to follow her pious intentions. Lucy gave liberally to the poor, and she frequently brought food to those who were hiding in the catacombs.
The young Roman nobleman who had sought her in marriage was outraged. He denounced her to Paschasius, the Governor of Syracuse, who ordered her to burn some incense in sacrifice to the Emperor's image. When she refused Paschasius sentenced her to be exposed in a house of prostitution. Miraculously, no one was able to touch her, and one young man who tried to was struck blind. Enraged, the judge had her tortured, and had her eyes gouged out, and finally she was beheaded, in the year 304.
By the 6th century, her story was sufficiently widespread that she appears in the Sacramentary of St. Gregory the Great. She is also commemorated in the Roman Martyrology, and later the Venerable Bede attests that her popularity was widespread in England, where her festival was kept up until the Protestant Reformation, as a holy day of the second rank.
The name Lucy is derived from the Latin word for light. Her feast day is December 13th, which was once the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, before the reform of the Julian calendar, so her feast day is a festival of light. This is particularly seen in Scandinavian countries, with their long dark winters. She is the patron saint of Sweden.
One young girl is chosen to represent St. Lucy. She wears a white dress and a red sash as a symbol of martyrdom, carries palms and wears a crown or wreath of candles on her head. In both Norway and Sweden, girls dressed as Lucy carry rolls and cookies in procession as songs are sung. It is said that to vividly celebrate St. Lucy's Day will help one live the long winter days with enough light.
A special devotion to St. Lucy is practiced in southern Italy. On her feast day, there are large feasts of home-made pasta and various other Italian dishes, with a special dessert of wheat in hot chocolate milk. The large grains of soft wheat are representative of her eyes and are a treat to be indulged in just once a year.
In the north of Italy St. Lucy brings gift to children. A bouquet of hay is put outside of the house for St. Lucy's Donkey after the long night of bringing gifts to every kid. In small towns, a parade with St. Lucy is held the evening of the 12th. She goes through the streets of the town munching sweets and candy from her cart, always together with her donkey.
A Hungarian custom is to plant wheat in a small pot on St. Lucy's day. By Christmas green sprouts appear, signs of life coming from death. The wheat is then carried to the manger scene.
St. Lucy was venerated as a martyr immediately after her death. Her body was kept in Syracuse until about the year 400. After that history is not absolutely clear but eventually most of her relics ended up being kept in Venice, while there are others in Rome, Naples, Verona, Lisbon, Milan, as well as Germany, France and Sweden.
St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr, pray for us.
Want more RTV? Please Help Us Out HERE