Saint Lucy – an impressive woman and light in the dark

Around 283 AD a girl was born into a wealthy family in Syracuse, Sicily. Her name was Lucia/Lucy. The name is derived from the Latin word “lux” and simply means “light” or “radiant”. Lucy’s father died when she was small, and her mother Eutychia raised her daughter. Very young Lucy secretly took a chastity vow, but in her teens her mother promised her hand in marriage to a wealthy suitor, but Lucy first did what she could to delay the engagement. Lucy also was famous for her beautiful eyes and kind personality. She also secretly had become Christian in a time when Christianity was forbidden in the late Roman Empire. Emperor Diocletian pursued, imprisoned and had Christians killed. Lucy’s mother got a serious illness, but on a pilgrimage to Catania Lucy had her mother cured through prayer. Afterwards Euthychia promised her daughter that she didn’t have to get married. Lucy rejected her suitor, he was enfuriated and as revenge he told the local governor that Lucy was a Christian. She was imprisoned and tortured and as punishment sentenced to become a prostitute in a brothel. She refused and on the way to the brothel the ground froze and she couldn’t move. They poured boiling oil on her, but she didn’t die, someone then drove a sword through her neck, but she didn’t die immediatly anyway, only slightly afterwards. Lucy became ca 20 years old and died in 304 A.D. Even if parts of the story is pure legend she did exist and as many stories which have been improved on the way she has gone down in history and she later became canonised and turned into a saint of light, Saint Lucy.

Here in Sweden we during the Middle Ages were Catholics and since Saint Lucy had her day in the calender on December 13th people had different traditions to celebrate the light in the dark. In folklore people believed that evil spirits were out on December 13th, and we had to stay inside. It was also the longest and darkest day of the year according to the old Julian calender which was valid in Sweden until 1753. The story of the brave girl on Sicily wasn’t known, only her name – Light. By then we had become Lutheran Protestants since the 1500’s.

Different light traditions developed, especially in western Sweden. During the 18th century young men and women went around singing, making mischief and giving each other small gifts as the beginning of Christmas. At the end of the 18th century a tradition from Germany was introduced, a young woman dressed in white, and lights in her hair. That tradition developed further within the bourgouis families during the 1800’s. In 1927 the newspaper Stockholms Dagblad had a Saint Lucy competetion in Stockholm where young women could compete about the honour to become crowned this year’s Saint Lucy, the Queen of Light. Since then this tradition has spread all over Sweden and is now a very distinct Swedish tradition. We need lights to light up the darkness.

Even if the young woman who died for her belief on Sicily in 304 A.D. has little to do with the Swedish tradition of a Queen of Light in Midwinter we nevertheless must remember her for her strong will to be who she wanted to be. In a way I see the execution of Saint Lucy as a so called “honor killing”, a foul and vile phenomenon that still exists. I will end this text with honouring all women who like Lucy on Sicily 1708 years ago still to this day try to live a life of their own choosing. I also want to commemorate all girls, women and men who try to be lights in the dark to give our world hope of humanity. That’s also why the Saint Lucy tradition in Sweden must prevail.

Anders Moberg, December 13th 2012

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