Life and Soul

Saint of the week: St Lucy (December 13)

A detail from Lucy Before the Judge, by Lorenzo Lotto,

A miraculous dream Lucia of Syracuse was one of the most prominent victims of the Diocletian persecution and was one of the most popular saints in medieval Europe. Her feast day was once a major event in the calendar.

Traditional accounts say Lucy born to a wealthy family in 283AD, during the last great persecution of the Christian faith. Her father was Roman and her mother Greek. Her father died when Lucy was only five.

She wished to consecrate herself to God and give her dowry to the poor, but her mother arranged a wedding. Lucy then had a dream in which St Agatha, who had been martyred 52 years earlier and was a cult figure in southern Italy, came to her and said her mother would be cured of a bleeding disease. Her mother was duly cured and allowed her daughter to give away her jewels.

Word of Lucy soon spread and Paschasius, the governor of Syracuse, ordered her to offer a sacrifice to the emperor.

When she refused, he ordered her to be violated in a brothel. But when the guards came to take her away they found they could not move her. Eventually they placed bundles of wood under her. When the fire did not burn her she was beheaded.

Later stories from the medieval period have her tortured by eye-gouging, and claim she predicted the death of Diocletian, though there is no contemporary account of this.