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Roman Catholic Resources: Patron Saints

St. Lucy
Patron Saint of The Blind & Eye Disorders
Born Circa 283 - - - Died Circa 304
Feast Day: December 13

According to the Julian calendar, the winter solstice began on December 13th. It was the shortest day of the year.

The pagans knew what to do during dark Decembers: to insure the sun’s renewal, they made offerings, decorated trees, and lit fires, symbolic gestures that begged the light to return. A sacred figure Lucina, the Sabine goddess of light, was worshipped on the darkest day. In her role as midwife, Juno-Lucina was the deity who brought the miraculous sun-child into the light at Yule/ Jul [or “wheel”].

The party didn’t stop there. By the third century, December 25 was established as the birthday of the "Invincible Sun" -- part of a festive fortnight of wild Roman celebrations honoring Saturn, also known as Saturnalia.

By the fourth century, these Roman solar feast days were Christianized.

No religion can succeed without a full holiday schedule. The easiest way to create Catholic holy days was to reform or renovate pagan practices.

Coincidentally, Lucio, a wealthy father in Syracuse (then the capital of Sicily) had a chaste teenage daughter Lucia during the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian, the height of the Christian persecution. Spurning marriage, sex, and worldly goods, Lucia carried food to rebels hiding in the catacombs. An angry suitor reported her, and the young virgin was put to death. After her martyrdom on December 13, 304 A.D., because of various traditions associating her name with light, Lucia came to be thought of as the patron of sight and the harvest. Medieval artists depicted her carrying a sheaf of wheat and a dish containing little cakes, mistaken later for her eyes.

Although the Catholic Church attempted to suppress any feminine aspect of the divine principle, this young Sicilian virgin-martyr was one of the earliest Christian saints to achieve popularity, having a widespread following before the 5th century. Perhaps because missionaries repeated tales about her martyrdom and chastity, Santa Lucia’s cult spread to Scandinavia, the West Indies, and elsewhere. Miracles were ascribed to her. Legends told of a famine, when Saint Lucy’s name was invoked in prayer -- and then a ship appeared, laden with golden wheat.

Later on, the early Church made Lucy a saint. Caravaggio and others painted her. Songs and poems were composed in her honor. The Great Caruso sang “Santa Lucia,” a Neapolitan barcarole. His admirer, Mario Lanza recorded this folksong, too. Lanza’s lifelong fan, Elvis Presley, also recorded it.

Not many teenage martyrs have their own theme songs as well as popular desserts prepared on their on their feast day.

Traditionally, on December 13th, "Cuccia" is served instead of bread to commemorate the saint who brought wheat to the starving Sicilians, and who watches over those with eye disease. [The Sicilian word "Cuccia" comes from the Arabic kiskiya (earthenware or grain).]

[Note: The winter solstice now falls on December 21, with the change to the Gregorian calendar in the 1300s.]

To visit Saint Lucy and her church in Sicily, contact the Tourist Board of Syracuse (AAPIT Syracuse):
Via San Sebastiano, 43 - 96100 Syracuse; Tel: (0039) 0931 - 481200; Fax: (0039) 0931 - 67803
Information Desk: Via San Sebastiano, 47 - 96100 Syracuse; Tel. (0039) 931 - 67710

Written by: LindaAnn Loschiavo, freelannce writer, and publisher of NonStop NY Web Site

Required Reading for Italian-Americans...

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