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
The Feast of Saint Paul’s Shipwreck