The On-Line Museum and Encyclopedia of Vision Aids.
Saint Lucy of Syracuse (284-304), also known as Saint Lucia, Santa Lucia, or
Saint Lukia, was a rich young Christian martyr who is venerated as a Saint by
Catholic and Orthodox Christians; Patroness of Syracuse, also the principal
Catholic representative of the patron saint of the blind and those with
eye-trouble; Protector of Eyesight; also patron saint of Opticians,
Ophthalmologists and Firemen; the patron saint of the sailor, and Columbus
addressed to her all of his prayers during his voyage to discover America
Saint Lucia (284-304) was a Sicilian, born of noble and wealthy Greek parents in Syracuse and brought up in the faith of Christ. She lost her father in infancy, and was still young when she offered her virginity to God. This vow, however, was kept a secret. Her mother Eutychia was persuaded by her daughter to travel to the tomb of St. Agatha at Catania and offer prayers to God for relief from an incurable haemorrhage she was suffering. Lucia accompanied her, and their prayers were answered. Then Lucia disclosed her desire of devoting herself to God and bestowing her fortune on the poor, and Eutychia in her gratitude left her at liberty to pursue her inclinations.
Eutychia then arranged a marriage for Lucy (at the age of fourteen) with a pagan nobleman, but Lucy urged that the dowry be spent on alms for the poor that she might retain her virginity. News that the patrimony and jewels were being distributed came to the ears of Lucy's betrothed. Annoyed at this, her suitor denounced Lucy as a Christian to the magistrate of the town, Paschasius, the persecution of Diocletian then being at its height. Lucy was brought before him and commanded to make sacrifice before idols, which she refused to do. As Lucia remained resolute, the magistrate ordered her to be exposed to prostitution in a brothel; but God rendered her immovable so that the guards were not able to carry her there. Magicians with their spells also were unable to move her. An attempt was made to burn her, but this was unsuccessful although oil and resin were poured over her. Even when a sword was buried in her neck she lived long enough to receive Holy Communion for the last time, at the age of 20. In another version she was decapitated.
The chosen feature of her sainthood is not, however, the
martyrdom itself, but a previous incident. It was said that her lover had so
greatly admired her beautiful eyes that she felt it was a sin. The legend
continues, "considering these things and calling to mind the words of Christ,
'If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee,' and fearing lest
her eyes should be the cause of damnation to the young man, she called for a
knife and took out her eyes and sent them to her lover in a dish with these
words; 'Here hast thou what thou so much desired.' Whereat the young man became
utterly astonished and full of grief and remorse became also a convert to
Christ. God would not suffer that the blessed Lucia, having given proof of her
courage and piety, should remain blind, for one day, as she knelt in prayer her
eyes were restored to her more beautiful than before."
Numerous paintings of this incident exist. She is typically represented in a blue dress carrying her two eyes on a plate, to remind people during the middle ages that she was invoked by those who suffer from eye trouble, possibly also on account of her name, which is supposed to be suggestive of 'light' or 'lucidity' (It:Luce: Light).
Lucia’s cult was both early and widespread. An inscription of c.400 referring to her survives at Syracuse, and her name occurs in the oldest Roman sacramentaries. Churches were dedicated to her in Rome, Naples, and Venice. At Syracuse There is a church dedicated to her on the spot where she was put to death; it dates from the 11th century, but little of the building now remains. The octagonal baptistery at a lower level, the Cappella del Sepolcro di Santa Lucia, contains a recumbent effigy of the Saint. Her body had been transferred from Syracuse to Constantinople (1038) and from there to San Giorgio, Venice (1204); later, her head was brought from Venice to the Cathedral of Bourges (1513). San Giovanni Maggiore in Naples is reputed to contain one of her eyes
Her feast is celebrated on 13th December, believed to be the shortest and darkest day of the year before the Gregorian Calendar reform. (Twelve days where lost when the Calendar was modified by Gregory). Lucia’s iconography is based on these Acts and her usual emblem is her eyes (her name has connotations of light) which were reportedly torn out and then were miraculously restored. By the 6th century the whole Church recognized her courage in defense of the faith.
An interesting final note: "In November 1981 St Lucy's
mummified skeleton was stolen from its heavy glass enclosed crypt just below the
altar of the Venetian Church of St Jeremiah. Two gunmen burst into the church
and ordered the parish priest and two parishioners to lie on the floor while
they seized the remains and put them in a sack. The saint's head broke off at
the neck and rolled away on the floor of the church. The silver death mask which
had covered the face was left behind. Eventually a bizarre ransom note was
received demanding that any page from a book called "If this T Man" be read out
in all secondary and high schools in the Venice area. A month later, on her
feast day, the police found the remains of St Lucy at a hunting lodge near
OAICC Newsletter 49/2 October 1994