Saint Lucy: The Iconography

In Syracuse, Sicily, the natal day Not her birthday but the day she died and was "born again" into Heaven of St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr, during the persecution of Diocletian. On the orders of the Consul Paschasius this noble virgin was given over to procurers so that the people could make light of her chastity. But when they tried to lead her away they could not move her at all, neither by pulling her themselves with ropes nor by using multiple teams of oxen. She overcame the torment of burning oil, resin, and pitch and finally attained martyrdom when she was stabbed in the throat. – Roman Martyrology for December 13

St. Lucy was martyred during the persecution of Diocletian in 304 in Syracuse.

NARRATIVE IMAGES

In the Golden Legend Lucy's mother is cured of a flow of blood by the intercession of St. Agatha. This leads her and Lucy to start giving their wealth to the poor (image). Her erstwhile fiancé then reports her to the judge Paschasius, who orders her taken to a brothel. But the Holy Spirit makes her immovable (image), so Paschasius tries fire, also unsuccessfully. Finally he has her throat cut. But before he can learn whether this will succeed he is arrested by the Emperor's emissaries. St. Lucy is then able to take communion (image) before dying (image).

PORTRAITS

St. Lucy's name comes from the Latin lux, "light," and as a result her attributes are sometimes a torch or a candle (example). But by far her most common attribute is a pair of eyes, sometimes held between her fingers (example) or on a stem (example) but usually poised on a platter in her hand (example). Originally the reason for this was that people called on her to intercede for diseases of the eye, presumably because of her name. But legends developed in which she was said to have had her eyes gouged out by a tyrant, or in one story by herself in response to the advances of a suitor who admired them.1

It is also common for the saint to be shown wearing a diadem, apparently a sign of her noble birth (example).

Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University

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The Holy Spirit protects Saint Lucy from the procurers (See description page)


A dressed santo in Galicia (See description page)


16th-century fresco (See description page)

DATES

  • Feast day: December 13

HAGIOGRAPHY

NOTES

1 Butler IV, 549. Duchet-Suchaux, 220. Molanus, 395, attributes the story of the gouged eyes to "Gothic" popular piety.