For as long as I can remember, my daughter has loved December 13. As a little girl, she delighted in honoring her namesake’s feast day with cinnamon rolls for breakfast and the reading of a favorite book about Saint Lucy. We may not read the books aloud anymore, but even at the age of seventeen, she anticipates the cinnamon rolls.
The Feast of Saint Lucy is not just one of my daughter’s favorite days. Affection for this day extends throughout our entire family, because it is also the birthday of our sixth child.
I worried how this birth—ten days early,—would affect my sweet daughter’s special day. But her good nature allowed her to make room in her heart to share it with her little brother. And now, we celebrate Saint Lucia Day in the morning and a birthday in the evening.
Yes, I have a Lucia and a Star Boy. How am I so blessed?
But who was Saint Lucy? And how does she remain a beacon of light for us each Advent?
Saint Lucy // Virgin Martyr
Lucy was born to noble parents in 283 A.D. in Syracuse, Italy. When her father died, her mother attempted to arrange a marriage between Lucy and a pagan man. Lucy refused the marriage, vowing to live a life exclusively for Christ.
Lucy accompanied her mother on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Agatha to seek a cure for her mother’s hemorrhage. During a time of prayer, Saint Agatha appeared to Lucy in a vision. She told her that through Lucy’s faith in Jesus, her mother would be healed.
When her mother was healed, Lucy asked that she not be required to marry. She also desired to share their wealth with the poor. Her mother honored her requests. When her betrothed heard that Lucy was no longer required to marry him and that she was giving her dowry to the poor, his anger got the best of him. He revealed Lucy’s Christianity to the Roman governor, who sentenced her to death.
Tradition says that Lucy survived many attempts on her life. One legend says that when it was time to kill her, she was immovable, even with a team of oxen. Then, they attempted to burn her at the stake, but the fire would not start. Lucy was finally killed by the sword in 304 A.D. at the young age of 21.
Saint Lucy is one of seven female saints commemorated in the Eucharistic Prayers of the Mass. Three of them—Saints Agatha, Agnes, and Cecilia—also share with Lucy the title of virgin martyr.
Eyes of Faith
Tradition says that Lucy’s eyes were removed by her persecutors, and she is often depicted holding a plate with two eyes on it. However, in the image her eyes also remain in place. This symbolizes that our faith is often in what we cannot see, and our eyes of faith allow us to see the truth, beauty, and goodness of God.
What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him. // 1 Corinthians 2:9
Jesus teaches about the importance of the eyes in the Gospel of Matthew:
The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. // Matthew 6:22-23
The book of Sirach echoes this sentiment:
Without eyes there is no light; without knowledge there is no wisdom. // Sirach 3:25
A Light in the Darkness
The Scriptural association between eyes and light ties perfectly into the life of Saint Lucy. Not only are “eyes” a visual representation of her martyrdom, the name Lucy comes from the Latin word lux, meaning light.
Saint Lucy is a stunning example of what it means to be a light in the world. Throughout her life, which was lived during a horrific time in history, she kept her gaze on the Lord. When it would have been much easier to stay hidden, she courageously shone the light of Christ to others.
As a bearer of light, Lucy’s feast day is fittingly situated in the midst of the darkest, coldest time of the year. During the Advent season, we are immersed in darkness, as we near the winter solstice.
In addition, we consider how Advent is a spiritual reflection between light and dark. We contemplate the coming of the Messiah and how the years leading up to His birth were spiritually dark. Jesus was born into a bleak and weary world, in order that we may have “life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4).
This familiar theme—the paradox of light and dark—is woven throughout Sacred Scripture. And we read many of these passages during the Advent season:
- The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. // Isaiah 9:2
- For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. // Isaiah 60:2
- By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. // Luke 1:78-79
- The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. // John 1:5
We are even reminded of this movement between darkness and light in the Advent hymns we sing:
O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
In various ways, we are always waiting in the dark for the Light to come and illuminate our hearts, minds, and world. This waiting is emphasized during the Advent season.
While we wait, we find warmth and renewal in the glow of Advent candles and twinkle lights. And we are given a friend in Saint Lucy to encourage us in our waiting for the Light of the World to be born on Christmas Day. She also shows us how to bring light to the dark corners of our world, to be a ray of hope to those who cannot see Who is dawning just beyond the horizon.
Lord, by the light of my Advent wreath, I hope in Your light that breaks through the darkness. Let Your glory shine! Saint Lucy, pray for us. Amen.
This was originally published on the Blessed Is She blog.