St. Lucy, Bearer of Light

Today, the Church commemorates the Virgin martyr, St. Lucy. St. Lucy is a major figure in Dante‘s Divine Comedy, acting as a guiding figure for Dante; leading him to his final destination: to the Beatific Vision. Dr. Taylor Marshall wrote about the role of St. Lucy in the Divine Comedy. He wrote:

Dante, in the Divine Comedy, gives special literary significance to Saint Lucy. He especially highlights the believed chain of mediation of graces that begin with Christ, through, Mary, and then through particular saints.

The Inferno is, of course, a story of Dante being guided by Virgil through Hell. We learn that Virgil was summoned as Dante’s tour guide by his beloved Beatrice, who was summoned by St Lucy, who was summoned by the Blessed Virgin Mary (2, 94-96).

Hence, Saint Lucy is a special patron and advocate for Dante. Why is this? Saint Lucy is the patron of light and sight. It would seem that a poet would need such light to be rightly inspired. Moreover, the pathway through Hell would require a special patroness of light.

At the end of the Divine Comedy, in Paradiso 32, Saint Lucy is placed opposite of Adam within the Mystic Rose of Heaven. It would seem, then, that Saint Lucy was greatly esteemed by Dante. Perhaps her association with Adam reveals here as one who did not abuse her eyesight for the sake of evil.

“And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold: and she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave to her husband who did eat.” (Gen 3:6 D-R)

Saint Lucy is a powerful martyr and intercessor. She is an icon of virginity and chastity. We must teach her example to our daughters. (source)

Catholics have loved St. Lucy for centuries; and have developed customs to commemorate her feast day. Fish Eaters summarizes some of them in the following:

Her name, “Lucia,” means “Light,” and light plays a role in the customs of her Feast Day. In Italy, torchlight processions and bonfires mark her day, and bowls of a cooked wheat porridge known as cuccia is eaten because, during a famine, the people of Syracuse invoked St. Lucy, who interceded by sending a ship laden with grain (much as St. Joseph also did for the people of Sicily). Cuccia can be made so that it’s savory or sweet. The wheat is most often simply soaked overnight, rinsed, simmered in water to cover by 2 inches for 3 hours or until tender, and then served with milk and sugar, much like oatmeal is. Or it can be a bit more elaborate:
Cuccia (sweet)

1 pound whole wheat
10 ounces fig honey or other flavorful honey
Dried orange peel, grated
Chopped walnuts

Soak the grain in cold water for 24 hours, rinse it, and then boil it in water for three hours or until tender. Let it cool, then drain and return it to the fire with the honey, orange peel, and walnuts.

Some of the loveliest St. Lucy’s Day customs are Swedish: in Sweden, the oldest daughter of a family will wake up before dawn on St. Lucy’s Day and dress in a white gown for purity, often with a red sash as a sign of martyrdom. On her head she will wear a wreath of greenery and lit candles, and she is often accompanied by “starboys,” her small brothers who are dressed in white gowns and cone-shaped hats that are decorated with gold stars, and carrying star-tipped wands. “St. Lucy” will go around her house and wake up her family to serve them special St. Lucy Day foods, such as saffron buns and Lussekatter (St. Lucy’s Cats), shaped into X’s, figure-8s, S-shapes, or crowns.

Lussekatter (makes 10-12 buns)

1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
8 ounces (1 cup) milk
1 tablespoon yeast
1/2 cup sugar
4 ounces (1 stick) butter
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 beaten egg white for egg wash

Using a mortar and pestle, pound saffron threads to break down strands. In a small saucepan, heat milk to lukewarm.

Mix yeast with 1/4 cup milk and 1 tablespoon sugar. Set aside.

On low heat, melt butter in saucepan with milk. Add crushed saffron. Let cool.

In large bowl, mix together flour salt and remaining sugar.

Stir yeast into cooled milk mixture. Mix into dry ingredients, beating to mix well. Add beaten eggs. Knead in bowl for 5 – 7 minutes. Turn onto floured board and knead another 7 – 8 minutes.

Put dough in lightly greased bowl, turn to coat all sides, cover and put in warm, draft-free place to rise for about 1 hour.

When dough has risen, knead lightly to push out air and divide into small pieces (about 10 – 12). Using the hands, roll each small piece into a strip about 8 – 10 inches long. Shape each strip into an ‘S’ or a figure 8. Place on lightly buttered cookie sheets.

Cover with clean cloth and let rise again until double in bulk, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

When dough has risen, brush lightly with egg white. Bake in preheated 375° F oven for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool on wire rack.

The Saint is honored with the Neapolitan song “Santa Lucia” …, but with the lyrics altered to focus on the Saint rather than the Italian harbor named for her. In Sweden, there are also public processions of “Lucias,” and cities will elect an official “Lucia” for the year, with Sweden electing a national representative of the Saint.

In yet another astronomical coincidence (or not?) given the meaning of Lucia’s name, the evening of the 13th/morning of the 14th is the time when the Geminids make their appearance. The Geminids, along with the Perseids in August (see the Feast of St. Lawrence) and the Leonids in November, are the meteor showers that tend to be the largest and spectacular. The Geminids can also be rather colorful! Look toward the East after midnight to try to see them! (source)

St. Lucy, pray for us; and continue to guide us by your light towards the land of Heaven.

May you have a good day, and weekend.


~Image: Dante and St. Lucy, source.