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
Narrative images of St. Lucy follow the accounts summarized 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
so Paschasius tries fire, also unsuccessfully
Finally he has her throat pierced by a sword.
But before he can learn whether this will succeed he is arrested by the Emperor's emissaries. Mortally wounded, St. Lucy manages to preach to the crowd and take communion before dying
An oleograph from the 19th century pictures the entire narrative in twelve scenes arranged around an image of the saint.
PORTRAITSOriginally St. Lucy's attribute was a flaming lamp, as in the first picture at right. The lamp referenced both her name (which means "light") and literary works that associated her with the "wise virgins" who kept their lamps ready for the bridegroom in Matthew 25:1-13. Some images also added a knife or sword as an attribute supplemental to the lamp (example).
But by at least the 12th century St. Lucy came to be invoked for diseases of the eye, and her most common attribute became a pair of eyes placed on a golden plate (as in the second picture at right) or held delicately between her fingers (example).1 There is nothing about eyes or eyesight in the early accounts of Lucy's passion, or even as late as Bokenham's 14th century Legend of Holy Woman. But according to Cassell (74) a "later accretion of her legend" said she plucked out her own eyes because so many young men had been attracted to her by their beauty.
A dressed santo of St. Lucy in Galicia has black hair, but in all the other portraits I have examined she is a young blonde. Her own eyes are always intact, despite a literary tradition that started to appear at the end of the 15th century claiming the saint had gouged out her eyes in order to be undesirable to young men who had admired them. That tradition drew credibility from the eyes-on-a-plate attribute and also from Jesus' admonition, "if thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee" (Matthew 5:29).2
Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University.