St. Lucy Is a Beacon of Light in a Dark World

St. Lucy was powerless and unknown when she was martyred in AD 304, but after her death, her fame spread throughout Christendom.

Antonio and Bartolomeo Vivarini, “St. Lucy,” ca. 1449
Antonio and Bartolomeo Vivarini, “St. Lucy,” ca. 1449 (photo: Public Domain)

I imagine the Roman governor responsible for the martyrdom of St. Lucy thought little enough of her execution at the time. She was just one more inconsequential Christian woman, killed in 304 during the Diocletian Persecution because she refused to marry a pagan after consecrating her virginity to Christ.

Her death may have given him pause for a moment, if only because she was proved a difficult girl to kill. He had sentenced her to prostitution as a punishment after her shunned betrothed betrayed her as a Christian in retribution for refusing his advances. Yet, when the soldiers attempted to tie her to an ox cart and drag her to the brothel, the oxen would not budge. Enraged, they surrounded her with wood to burn her alive where she stood, but the wood did not light. Finally, unnerved and angered by the beautiful and innocent woman before them, one of their number plunged his sword through her throat and killed her. 

Doubtless the governor assumed that was that and soon forgot the matter. After all, though Lucy came from a noble family, her father had died when she was young and no one remained to mourn or remember her besides her mother. In life she had been utterly powerless against the man who betrayed her and the empire that destroyed her. In death she should have quickly faded from all memory.

Of course, that was certainly not the end of Lucy’s story. Within decades, her name had spread throughout Christendom. By the sixth century, she was counted as one of the martyrs in the collection of prayers created by St. Pope Gregory the Great, and devotion to her was only growing. In the eighth century, Christians were celebrating her with festivals on multiple continents. Today she is counted among the most beloved and famous Catholic saints. Her feast day on Dec. 13 is celebrated around the world with a bevy of traditions, and she is one of the seven female martyrs invoked during the Eucharistic litany of saints.

Little is known of Lucy herself. After her death legends sprang up, including the claim that her eyes had been gouged out (either by her to dissuade a suitor or by the Roman governor to force her to recant Christianity), but were miraculously returned to her by her burial. Accordingly, she was named the patroness of the blind. But traditions and legends aside, all that is truly known is that she was a young woman of unwavering faith who bravely met death rather than betray her savior.

The other unassailable fact we know is Rome’s officials assumed that they could crush this young woman and wipe her existence from the planet, much as they assumed the early Church would crumble when they unleashed the full force of the empire against her. Instead, As Rome crumbled into decay, the Church flourished. While her executor, Paschasius, was relegated to the footnotes of history, Lucy’s life and death, which by Rome’s calculations should have never been more than a single entry in a Roman official’s records, instead has echoed down through the centuries, inspiring the faith of an untold number of Christians around the world.

We cannot know why St. Lucy’s name is the one we remember, out of the countless martyrs of the early Church. Her story is the one we know and celebrate, but only God knows how many young women shared her fate. Yet while we ponder that mystery, we can thank God that he allowed the legacy of this girl to outlast the empire that killed her, and that we have her awe-inspiring example to guide us as we navigate the crises of our own faith.

St. Lucy, pray for us!