Deacon Rohrbacher

St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr

By: Deacon Charles Rohrbacher

The feast day of St. Lucy (aka Santa Lucia) is celebrated on December 13th. A native of the city of Syracuse on the island of Sicily, she was martyred in 304 AD during the persecution of the Roman emperor Diocletian. Her veneration as a saint is very ancient and can be attested as far back as the 5th century. Her name and that of another Sicilian martyr, Agatha, were added to the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I) in the 6th century.

Until the Pope Gregory XIII’s calendar reform in October 1582, the date of the winter solstice was observed on December 13th, St. Lucy’s feast day. Her name, from the Latin lux, meaning light, was seen as symbolic of the return of the light on the shortest (and darkest) day of the year.

She is the patron saint of the blind and her prayers are invoked for diseases and afflictions of the eyes. This is because of her association with light and the sense of sight, which relies on light. In a legend about her from the Middle Ages, she reportedly plucked out her own eyes to discourage the unwanted advances of a suiter. In her iconography, she often is shown with a pair of eyes in a dish or in her open hand.

During the persecution of Diocletian, Christians in Syracuse hid in caves behind the city. St. Lucy, according to tradition, secretly brought bread to them. Because her hands were full, she fashioned a wreath of candles, which she wore on her head to light her way.

Traditionally in Norway, Sweden and Finland, in honor of St. Lucy and to mark the winter solstice there are public processions from the churches to the town center led by a girl dressed in white (to symbolize Lucy’s virginity) and a red sash (to symbolize her martyrdom), wearing St. Lucy’s wreath of lit candles on her head (symbolizing Christ, the light of the world and the return of the light in the darkness of winter. It is also a domestic custom in many households for girls and young women to bring their family members bread or pastry (and coffee) while wearing a wreath of lit candles on their heads on the morning of her feast day.

The traditional pastry for St. Lucy’s day in Scandinavia is the Lussekatter (Lucy Cat) a spiced buns colored yellow with saffron (representing light) and other spices in the shape of an inverted S ( suggestive of a sleeping cat) with two raisins or currents ( St. Lucy’s eyes, perhaps?).

In Sicily, cuccia is eaten on St. Lucy’s feast day. It can be either a savory soup with wheat berries or barley or a sweet dessert made with boiled wheat berries, honey and milk (although there many, many variations of this basic recipe.) This wheat dish may have been introduced to Sicily while the island was part of the Byzantine Empire or later as a Muslim Emirate.

In Sicily people eat cuccia on St. Lucy’s feast day to commemorate her help in ending a famine in the city of Syracuse in 1582. The people prayed to their patron saint for deliverance and their prayers were answered when a cargo ship filled with wheat unexpectedly docked in the harbor. The starving people were so hungry that they boiled the wheat berries and ate them on the spot. The custom then developed that on St. Lucy’s Day, cuccia takes the place of bread and pasta.

Prayer for the Memorial of St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr
May the glorious intercession
of the Virgin and Martyr St.Lucy
give us a new heart, we pray, O Lord,
so that we may celebrate her heavenly birthday
in this present age and so behold things eternal.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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