You may be old enough, Dear Reader, to remember the Beatles’ epic song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Well here’s something else: Even though Diocletian was not the nicest sort of Roman Emperor, the Catholic Church and our island have every reason to be grateful for his rule of terror, known as “The Great Persecution”, which gave us many early martyrs, Christians who died for their faith. Diocletian ordered that Christian books be burned, churches be demolished, and Christian leaders be arrested and executed. In fact, without him we would not have many of the saints we have today and our country, incidentally, would probably have been named after some British or French admiral or plantation owner. Lucy, whose name can mean “light” or “lucid”, is the patron saint of the blind and, somewhat oddly, sore throats. She is often depicted with a golden plate holding her eyes and often holds a palm branch, which is a symbol of victory over evil.
Lucia was one of the Christians that Diocletian put to death. Much of her life story has been lost and all we really know for certain is that this woman who lived in Syracuse on Sicily lost her life in the early fourth century. By the sixth century the Church had recognized her courage in defending the Faith, and legends began to evolve. Hers is the story of a young Christian woman who vowed to live her life in the service of Christ. According to the traditional story, Lucy was born of rich and noble parents about the year 283. Her father was of Roman origin but died when she was five years old, leaving his daughter and her mother without a protective guardian. Her mother’s name, Eutychia, seems to indicate that she came of Greek stock.
Lucy’s sickly mother tried to arrange a marriage for her to a pagan. Lucy knew her mother could not be swayed by her vow of chastity, so she devised a plan to convince her mother that Christ was her better partner for life. After several prayers at the tomb of Saint Agatha, Lucy saw the saint in a dream. St. Agatha told Lucy her mother’s illness would be cured through faith, which Lucy used to persuade her mother to give the dowry money to the poor and allow her to commit her life to God. Her mother Eutychia, however, preferred to hang on to her wealth while she was alive and suggested that the sums would make a good bequest after her death, but Lucy countered, “Whatever you give away at death for the Lord’s sake you give because you cannot take it with you. Give now to the true Saviour, while you are healthy, whatever you intended to give away at your death,” which turned out to be a winning argument and Lucy got her way.
While Lucy and her mother were grateful to God, the rejected pagan bridegroom, however, was deeply angered and complained of Lucy’s faith to the local governor who attempted to force her into defilement at a brothel, but the guards who came to take her away were unable to move her, even after hitching her to a team of oxen. Highly frustrated, the guards heaped bundles of wood around her but the wood would not burn, so they finally resorted to their swords, and put Lucy to death.
Before she died, Lucy evidently threatened Governor Paschasius that he would be punished. When the governor heard this he ordered the guards to gouge out her eyes; however, in another version of the tale, it was Lucy who removed her eyes in an attempt to discourage her persistent pagan suitor who had expressed great admiration for them. After her death, when her body was being prepared for burial, amazingly, they discovered her eyes had been restored to her sockets, which was pretty neat, you have to admit.
Hundreds of years later a monk named Sigebert described Lucy’s body as remaining undisturbed in Sicily for 400 years until her remains were taken to Abruzzo in Italy only to be later removed by Emperor Otho I in 972 to the church of St. Vincent in Metz, a city in northeastern France. There must have been quite a trade in ancient corpses way back then. There is much confusion about what happened to this 600-year-old corpse after its stay at St. Vincent’s but it is believed that several pieces of her body can be found in Rome, Naples, Verona, Lisbon, Milan, Germany, France and Sweden. There is no mention of where this virgin’s interesting bits ended up. Reportedly, the remainders of Lucy’s relics remain in Venice. They were transferred to the church of San Geremia when the church of Santa Lucia was demolished in 1861 to make way for the new railway terminus. A century later, on 7 November 1981, thieves stole all her bones, except her head, for some inconceivable reason. Police were able to recover them five weeks later, on her feast day.
It really does seem to be quite unfair that our island of Fair Helen does not have her fair share of Lucy’s bones and bits and pieces. After all, there is a distinct possibility that our island home is the only country in the world named after a woman so you would imagine that natural justice – I do love that nonsensical term – would dictate that we should own at least a little bit of our own patron saint.