St Lucy – 14 December 2020
This picture depicts scenes from the life of St Lucy, who was commemorated yesterday on the anniversary of her martyrdom. St Lucy (Lucy of Syracuse, 283-304) is depicted here as an early modern woman, undergoing a number of trails because of her faith (out of love for Christ she had consecrated her body to God, and given away riches to the poor). From the top left: soldiers attempt to lead her to a brothel to be defiled (they could not move her), to repulse an unwelcome suitor she put out her own eyes, she was hitched to oxen to be dragged (again, they could not move her), she receives the sacrament before they place her on a bonfire where she did not burn. Finally, she is killed by a sword to her throat. Her holiness is seen in her halo/aura, signifying her immediate receipt alongside the other holy martyrs in heaven.
St Lucy was martyred on 13 Dec 304 in the Diocletian persecutions. Until the revision of the calendar, 13th Dec was the shortest day of the year (the winter solstice), and so the night from 13th Dec into 14th the longest night. St Lucy’s Day is commemorated across northern Europe, often with girls wearing white baptismal robes and crowns of candles on their heads. Her story is concerned with dark being overcome by one who carried the light of Christ. In the darkest days of the year in northern Europe, her cult encouraged Christian virtue as a means of overcoming evil.
The picture here is The Martyrdom of St Lucy by the Master of the Figdor Deposition (Bruges, 1480-1500).
‘TIS the year’s midnight, and it
is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
The world’s whole sap is sunk;
The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed’s-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.
John Donne, A Nocturnal upon St Lucy’s Day being the shortest day
St. Lucy’s day is brief and bright with frost,
In round cupped dew ponds shallow waters freeze,
Delicate fronds and rushes are held fast,
The low sun brings a contrast to the trees
Whose naked branches, dark against the skies
And fringed with glory by the light behind,
In patterns too severe for tired eyes,
Burn their bright beauty on the weary mind.
Saint Lucy’s sun still bathes these abbey walls
And in her garden rose stalks stark and bare
Shine in a frosty light that yet recalls
The glory of the summer roses there.
Though winter night will soon surround us here,
Another Advent comes, Dayspring is near.
Malcolm Guite, Launde Abbey on St Lucy’s Day
O St Lucy, preserve the light of my eyes so that I may see the beauties of creation, the glow of the sun, the colour of the flowers and the smile of children.
Preserve also the eyes of my soul, the faith, through which I can know my God, understand His teachings, recognise His love for me and never miss the road that leads me to where you, St Lucy, can be found in the company of the angels and saints.
St Lucy, protect my eyes and preserve my faith. Amen.
A prayer to St Lucy