This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

December 13 -- Feast of Saint Lucia

Traditional portraits show eyes on a plate
Saint Lucy was an early fourth century Roman maiden from a wealthy family.  She was courted by a hot-tempered man -- thoughtless, for sure, but I prefer to imagine that he was young, probably naive and over-confident, and later filled with remorse.  Probably not, but that's how I like to imagine him. 

The basic story is that when Lucy rebuffed this man's advances, he raised the stakes by going to the Roman authorities and denouncing her as a Christian.  She doubled down by giving her dowry away to the poor to make herself a less appealing marriage prospect.  He hung in, though, hoping to win her with or without a dowry.  The praetor who questioned her, Paschasius, was sympathetic to the young suitor's purpose, trying to coerce or frighten her into submission.  Just a sprinkle of incense in front of an imperial altar would divorce her from the Christian god, following which she -- penniless and godless -- would need a husband to survive.  At least, that was the plan. 

The sequence of events is a little unclear, but here's the way I see it.  Between the threats and the mockery, Paschasius slipped in a little flattery on the suitor's behalf.  Lucy then asked him what the man especially liked about her.  Paschasius indicated her beautiful eyes.  Lucy then tore her eyes out of her head, passed them to the praetor, and declared that the young man could have those if he liked them so well, but he could not have her. 

modern portrait by LW Ivec
Dissatisfied with the prospect of merely killing so stubborn a girl, Paschasius sentenced her to service in a brothel.  Not to put to fine a point on it, but a blind girl would be less likely to run away, and thus would be more easily exploited.  She however, sat down in the square and refused to budge.  Soldiers could not lift her.  Oxen were brought in to drag her, but they too refused to move.  So the praetor ordered her burned to death.  A fire was built around her, but she remained unharmed. So they cut her throat. 

The execution is well-attested from the time of the Diocletianic persecutions.  The eye-gouging bit was added a thousand years later, perhaps as a play on Lucia's derivation from lux, lucis, meaning light.  It is helpful too to have a patron saint for the blind, I guess. 

Lussekatt:  Lucia Maria Major
In Sweden, the youngest daughter in a household dresses in a white gown, a red sash, and a garland crown with lit candles on the feast of Saint Lucia.  She then carries coffee and rolls (lussekatter, or Lucy cats) to her parents.  Her older brothers and sisters accompany her, dressed in white and bearing candles.  In the Gregorian calendar, December 13 was the solstice so they were bearing light. In larger towns and cities, processions of these light-bearing, lussekatter-&-coffee-bearing children go through neighborhoods, visiting every house. 

Our cat Lucia, most ancient of days, was named for Saint Lucia as she and her brother (long since departed) came to our house in the Christmas season. 

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