Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Lucy-light, shortest day and longest night

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From the Breviary Legend for 13 December:

Lucy [or Lucia] was early recognized as one of the most illustrious of virgin Martyrs. Therefore, along with Agatha, Agnes, and Cecilia, her name is mentioned in the Gregorian Canon. But nothing can now be surely established concerning her life save that she bare such witness to Christ, about the year 304 at Syracuse, as soon to fill Christendom with her praises.

The written Acts of St Lucy (on which the Propers of her Office are based) were compiled long after her death, like the Acts of the other three aformentioned virgin Martyrs, and doubtless contain such memories of her passion as then sur­vived, along with the wonders that had come into belief to explain how Christ's strength was made perfect in the weakness of his handmaiden.

According to these Acts, Lucy took her mother, who was afflicted with an issue of blood, to pray at Catania before the body of St Agatha, through whose intercession her mother was healed. Whereupon Lucy begged that the dowry set aside for her marriage be given to the poor, and this same was done.

To the Virgin Lucy came a voice, as from blessed Agatha, which said : "Why seek of me what thou thy­self canst presently give to thy mother? Thy faith will make her whole, for because of thy virginity thou art become a goodly dwelling-place for God. Even as Christ by my sufferings doth ever glorify Ca­tania, so by thine shall he ever glorify Syracuse."

When this came to the ears of him to whom she had been be­trothed against her will, he delivered her to the prefect to be punished as a Christian. The latter tried entreaties, and then threats, to seduce her from Christ, and finally ordered her to be prostituted in a brothel. To which Lucy replied, "Thou canst not prosti­tute my soul; if this poor body be violated against my will, I shall thereby obtain unto the double crown of chastity and suffering."

Whereupon, when unspeakable cruel­ties had failed to move her, she was finally martyred by a sword thrust through her neck. Said Lucy, "I besought my Lord Jesus Christ that the fire of per­secution should not prevail over me, and so I got me a truce from the Lord before my martyrdom. For the love that I had unto them, lo, they take now my contrary part, but I give myself unto prayer."

Her body was buried at Syracuse, but afterwards taken to Con­stantinople, and lastly to Venice. And she is invoked by those who suffer illness of the eyes, from a story told of her, that she desired her eyes to be plucked out, to avoid the lust­ful admiration which they stirred in pagan young men. Her name indicateth light, and she was a shining light of purity to those who had no eyes to see the beauty of Christ in that night of pagan darkness; to which mystic reference is made in an old saying concerning her feast-day (which was by the old reckoning the shortest day in the year): "Lucy-light, shortest day and longest night."

An article on the Scandinavia festival of St Lucia's Day can be found here. A modern version of Lucia, painted by Suzanne Apgar can be viewed and purchased here.

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