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Santa Lucia

A train station, a song, and a saint

Relic of Santa Lucia

If you spring for a gondola ride and your gondolier is moved to belt out a song, it will probably be Santa Lucia (even if it's traditionally Neapolitan). But Venice, after all, has her relics, and that's what really really counts, today housed in the church of San Geremia.

Lucia was a maiden of Syracuse, Sicily, who was martyred in 304 or 310 during Diocletian’s persecutions. She was initially buried in Syracuse’s catacombs. In 1038 the Byzantines took her to Constantinople; in 1204 the Venetians, who simply couldn’t pass up a good saint, brought her to Venice.

She was stolen again from this church in 1981 by an unknown gunman (although her head rolled off in the church). The rest of her was miraculously rediscovered a month later on her feast day in a hunter's lodge.

The association of Lucia with lux or luce (light) went naturally with her appointed Feast Day, 13 December, close enough to the winter solstice to latch several old pagan holidays on to her name, especially in Scandinavian countries.

Statue of St Lucy in Boston

From light, Lucia became associated with eyesight, and she is nearly always portrayed in art holding a pair of eyes on a tray like two sunny-side-up eggs. And as many myths are believed to have been derived from misinterpreting drawings, so a whole legend has grown up that she was martyred by having her eyes pulled out, or that she pulled them out herself to keep from marrying a pagan cad.

History and Anecdotes

Text © Dana Facaros & Michael Pauls

Images by John Stephen Dwyer, Sarausano, Public Domain