Feast Day of St. Lucy

1 comment December 13th, 2015 Headsman

Today is the feast of Saint Lucy, a Diocletian martyr and one of Christendom’s best beloved saints.

As her Wikipedia page observes, “all the details of her life are the conventional ones associated with female martyrs of the early 4th century.” Like St. Barbara she had secretly become a Christian; like St. Cecilia, she was betrothed to a mean old pagan; like St. Catherine her sacred body defied the tortures ordered by the Governor of Syracuse, until the Romans just gave up and beheaded her. (Her husband is supposed to have denounced her when he found out that the pious Lucy, with the help of an apparition of the martyred St. Agatha, had convinced her mother to give away the daughter’s ample dowry; this embrace of lonely penury probably explains how she came to be the patron saint of writers.)


Lucy Before the Judge by Lorenzo Lotto, 1523-32.

Iconography often depicts St. Lucy brandishing her own eyeballs, like a Guillermo del Toro monster: this, too, is an allusion to the torments of the Romans, and the story is either the cause or the consequence of her patronage of the blind.

Lucy’s name derives from the Latin root for “light”, and her December 13 feast formerly coincided with the winter solstice; as a result, St. Lucy’s Day became a major holiday some locales — including Italy, Scandinavia, the Philippines, and Omaha, Nebraska. The English poet John Donne meditates upon the occasion in a 1627 noctural, by which time December 13 was not technically the solstice by either Julian or Gregorian calendars.

Since she enjoys her long night’s festival,
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year’s, and the day’s deep midnight is.


Detail view (click for the full image) of Burial of St. Lucy — which was painted for the church in Syracuse that stands on the spot of her purported martyrdom by the fugitive genius Caravaggio.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,History,Italy,Martyrs,Myths,Popular Culture,Roman Empire,Torture,Uncertain Dates,Women

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Feast Day of St. Agatha

2 comments February 5th, 2011 Headsman

(Thanks to Carl Pyrdum, III, the author of the hilariously incisive blog Got Medieval, for this guest post — which originally appeared as part of his decidedly irreverent Medieval Months stroll through the Catholic Church’s quirky calendar of saintly feast days. -ed.)

While not one of the Holy Helpers proper, St. Agatha, whose feast falls on February 5, has special powers to heal ailments of the breasts, on account of having had hers cut off for refusing to worship pagan idols.

Like Bartholomew, she is usually depicted in the unfortunate after state in iconography, carrying her severed breasts before her on a tray or plate.


St. Agatha of Sicily, by Orazio Riminaldi (1625).

Because detached breasts sort of resemble bells, she’s the patron saint of bellfounders, and because they also kind of resemble dough, she works double duty as the patron of bakers, too. Oh, and just to be clear, that last sentence isn’t one of those clearly nonsensical sentences I pepper my writing with for purposes of the comedy. Agatha is the patron saint of severed boobs and everything that kind of looks like a severed boob.


The treats on the left are a traditional Catania cassata known as “Agatha’s breasts” or “Virgin breasts” (“Minni di Vergini”). Image (c) Gergely Sipos and used with permission.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,Guest Writers,Italy,Martyrs,Myths,Nobility,Other Voices,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Torture,Uncertain Dates,Women

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