Tag Archives: Saint Lucy

Sicily – The Unlikely Story of Saint Lucy

The Doumo Square is probably the very best part of Ortigia,  claimed by Sicilians to be one of the most beautiful in all of Italy, the elegant piazza stretches in an oval shape that caresses the Doumo,  dazzling white of alabaster and marble and flanked by grand aristocratic Palaces and the magnificent Cathedral.  Even though I have heard it before I certainly wouldn’t argue with that rather  extravagant claim.

Next to the Duomo is the Palazzo Senatorio, the city hall, built in the seventeenth century on the ruins of an Ionian temple. Opposite stands the Palace Benventano del Bosco, rebuilt at the end of the eighteenth century and to the right of the Duomo, the medieval Episcopal Palace.

We found it to be the perfect place to sit in the midday sun with a coffee and a cannoli, admire the architecture and people watch as folk strolled back and forth.

Naturally we visited the Doumo which has a long and complex history. 

The origins of a temple on the site date to prehistory. The great Greek Temple of Athena was built in the fifth century BC. The temple was a Doric edifice with six columns on the short sides and fourteen on the long sides. 

It probably looked something like this…

The Doric columns are still there because when the first Christian church was built there, the columns were incorporated into the structure, linking the worship of the past with that of the present.

Now it looks like this…

The columns make the Cathedral more interesting than it might otherwise be but most of all  I do like unlikely Saint stories and I was interested in the tale St. Lucy (Santa Lucia) who is the patron saint of Syracuse (St. Agnes is the patron saint of Sicily and St. Francis of Assisi  of all Italy, by the way).  I just mention that in case I get challenged.

Anyway, St. Lucy was a  virgin and a martyr who was one of the earliest Christian saints to achieve popularity, having a widespread following before the 5th century. Because of various traditions associating her name with light (Latin – Lux)  she came to be venerated as the patron of sight and the blind and was depicted by medieval artists carrying a dish containing her eyes.

Gift shops in Syracuse are full of Saint Lucy…

Not to be confused with Aunt Lucy…

Lucy came from a wealthy Sicilian family. Spurning marriage and worldly goods she vowed to remain a virgin in the tradition of St. Agatha. An angry suitor who was rejected  reported her to the local Roman authorities, who sentenced her to be removed to a brothel and forced into prostitution;  Romans were clearly not that tolerant of women’s rights it seems.   

According to legend this worldly order was thwarted by divine intervention.  Lucy became as immovable as a rock and could not be carried away, not even dragged away  by a team of oxen.  So she was next condemned to death by fire, but the wood to make the fire, again by divine intervention would not burn.

Finally, when all else failed she was stabbed in the neck through the jugular (I made that jugular bit up) with a sword and she was dead.  That seemed to work as well it might.  There are clearly limits to the power of divine intervention.

Lucy died in the year 304 at the age of twenty-one and was most likely a victim of the Christian purges carried out under orders of the then Emperor Diocletian,

She is venerated as a saint in the Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Eastern Orthodox churches. She is one of eight women (including the Virgin Mary) explicitly commemorated by Catholics in the Canon of the Mass.   She is also the patron Saint of virgins.  She is one of the best known virgin martyrs, along with Agatha of Sicily, Agnes of Rome, Cecilia of Rome and Catherine of Alexandria.

The cathedral holds a number of supposed relics of St. Lucy, a number of bone fragments, a robe, a veil, and a pair of shoes.  Twice a year on the first Sunday in May and on 13th December on her feast day, a statue of Saint Lucy is brought out of the cathedral and paraded through the streets. The silver statue incorporates three fragments of her ribs within its chest. 

Rather a shame that we would miss that by just a couple of days.

The cathedral shares the Piazza Duomo with the now deconsecrated Church of Santa Lucia which is used these days for exhibitions and functions but which still resembles a church both inside and out and was well worth a visit so we stopped off there on the way back to the apartment.

In a small room (an ex chapel I guess) was an exhibition of artwork associated with Saint Lucy including a copy of ‘The Burial of Saint Lucy’ by Caravaggio which I am reliably informed is quite famous.

Other Unlikely Saint Stories…

St Edmund, the Patron Saint of Pandemics

Saint James and Santiago de Compostella

Saint Patrick and Ireland

Saint Spiridon and Corfu

The Feast of Saint Paul’s Shipwreck

Saint John of Bridlington

Santa Eulalia and the Thirteen Tortures

Sicily – Ancient Greece and The Weeping Madonna

Pope Pius XII, in a radio broadcast on October 17, 1954

“. . . we acknowledge the unanimous declaration of the Episcopal Conference held in Sicily on the reality of the event. Will men understand the mysterious language of those tears?

I will come to this later in the post.  It is important…

Anyway, to start the story, from about 54BC Syracuse was developed as a Greek City, the biggest and the most important in the Western Mediterranean 

Two hundred years later under the tyrant Dionysius, Syracuse became the most splendid, most prosperous and the best fortified of all Greek cities.  The thought of tyrants mystifies me, why don’t people challenge them.  In 2023 there are fifty-seven tyrants in charge, mostly in Africa and the Middle East but the worst of all is Vladimir Putin.

Anyway, under Dionysius the naval power of Syracuse was vastly increased until its fleet was the most powerful in all of the Mediterranean.

Not surprising then that there is a lot of architecture to explore and plenty of archaeological ruins to see.

There were some to see in Ortigia but our intention today was to cross the bridge and make our way through the main city area to an archaeological site about a mile and a half away.

Suddenly there was a great contrast.  Ortigia is the historical centre of the city and is generally clean, tidy and well maintained but the street cleaning budget is not so generous once over the water.

We made our way to the site through a web of neglected streets that were untidy and grubby, not really somewhere to dwell, so bad that Kim wasn’t even inclined to linger in the main shopping street of the city and then along a busy road where the pavement was overgrown with weeds and thistles and eventually to the intended destination.

Almost immediately we were less than thrilled and as we walked to the ticket office we looked down on the ruins and were not impressed and over a coffee we debated whether or not to pay the admission price and go inside.  We decided against it for the following reasons…

1   The visitor reviews were mostly negative

2   The staff seemed most unhappy and unhelpful

3   We had to pay to use the toilets

4   Most of it was visible from the roadside anyway, no need to go in

5   It was €10 each admission

6   We had seen Greek ruins before in Sicily which were much better

This is Segesta on the west of the island near Palermo…

Read the Story about Segesta Here…

So, we left the disappointing ruins and made our way back to the city centre and specifically to the Church Sanctuary of the Madonna of Tears, I’ll say that again, the Church Sanctuary of the Madonna of Tears.  A massive and ugly construction built on the premise of a Marian Apparition*.

Now, this is the very unlikely story…

Sometime ago in Tuscany plaster plaques were  mass-produced and shipped to Syracuse for retail. One of the plaques was purchased as a wedding gift.  After it had hung in the humble home of a local family rather conveniently the image unexpectedly began to  shed tears for four whole days. 

Sent by the Pope himself an ecclesiastical tribunal scrupulously studied the plaque and had the tears scientifically examined and promptly declared it a true miracle.

It has been said that never has a miracle been so thoroughly investigated, nor approved so quickly.  I wonder if they had a structural survey of the house to see if the roof was leaking?

 

In a very short space of time there were reports of almost three hundred miracle healings, three hundred! attributed to the weeping Madonna and the Church and the City were quite clear on this matter and agreed to an appropriate construction to commemorate it.

The rather bizarre shape of the building was designed to represent a tear fallen from heaven and today the church is the destination of many faithful and pilgrims coming from all over the world.  Not many believers there today I have to report.  Actually only one.  We visited it of course (free admission) wandered around, saw the famous icon which wasn’t weeping today as it happened and compared it to the Holy Shrine of Knock in Ireland which is based on a similar unlikely story.

This is the Holy Shrine of Knock…

We were happy to leave the Shrine and the City and make our way back to the island of  Ortigia.  We didn’t like it there especially and wouldn’t be going back unless a miracle occurred.

Very Unlikely.

We crossed back over the bridge and the contrast was immediately there again.  How odd that one hundred yards or so can make such a difference.  We walked around the fishing port where weary fishermen were enjoying a well earned lunch break and ambled our way to the main square of Ortigia under the shadows of the Doumo, found a bar with a table in the sunshine and settled back to enjoy an early afternoon glass of wine.

Later we returned to the apartment, sat on the balcony and had another.

I have more to tell about the Blessed Virgin Mary in a later post coming up soon.

* A Marian Apparition is a reported supernatural appearance by the Blessed Virgin Mary. The miracle is often named after the town where it is reported

More posts about a Marian Apparition…

Montserrat and the Black Madonna

The Royal Monastery at Guadalupe

Fatima in Portugal

The Holy Shrine at Knock