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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Feast of St. Lucy

Last year Sister St. Aloysius started wearing those drug store eyeglasses so she could read the paper and ever since, every day, we have to look for her eyeglasses. We tried putting them on a chain around her neck, like normal people, but she gets them tangled in everything, in particular the seat belt in the car. We lost several pairs before we realized that every time she clicked the button to release the seat belt the glasses went flying. We found them on Sister Mary Fiacre in the back seat. Not on her face. That would have been really comical, in a sad way.

Most of the time when the eyeglasses are "lost" they are on Sister St. Aloysius' head, because she only needs them to read, unlike me. I become Ray Charles without my glasses. She flips them up there and then flips them back down like she's welding or something. The "they're on top of your head" phenomena happens so much that she's finally learned just to check the top of her head when her eyeglasses are MIA.

So you can imagine my amusement when she powered through the house yesterday looking for her eyeglasses again. I could see them plainly. I asked her if she checked on her head and she said of course she did it's the first place she checks. She was looking over the top of them. They were right on her face. I didn't say anything. I figured she'd find them eventually.

Today is the feast day of St. Lucy, patron saint of eye problems and drug store glasses. St. Lucy was a holy girl who wanted to remain chaste but her mother promised her to a local pagan boy. St. Lucy wanted to show the boy she was serious about her vows of chastity and her Christian faith so she cured him of some internal bleeding problem he was having. He let her go on the marriage situation but turned her in to the authorities on the Christian thing.

It seems the vow of chastity really ranckled the pagans. They are forever torturing young chaste girls: St. Agnes, St Agatha, St. Barbara, St. Dymphna...the list is endless. They have their own category, "Virgin Martyrs".

Lucy was no exception. The pagans tried to throw her into a brothel, but her feet stuck to the floor. They tried to burn her but the fire wouldn't touch her. Finally, they stabbed her in the throat with a big sword. That always works.

I've always wondered about that. Since the sword always works when other methods fail, why didn't the virgin martyrs throats turn to stone? St. Agnes' hair miraculously grew to cover her, there was the girl who miraculously grew a beard, St. Cecelia survived being steamed to death in her own sauna...St. Lucy could not be moved even by oxen. Why not a suddenly really hard neck? Oh well. Hence the 'martyr' part.

Anyhow, somewhere in there St. Lucy lost her eyes. There are various versions of how this occurred. In one, it's just part of the torture. But some versions have Lucy plucking them out herself when her erstwhile fiance resurfaces. He admires her beautiful eyes so she gives them to him. I think Vincent Van Gogh had the same idea with his ear.

As a result, St. Lucy is depicted in art holding a small plate with her eyeballs on it and down through the ages as the story was forgotten many people didn't realize what was on the plate and, when reproducing the art, painted olives on the plate.

St. Lucy is the saint of which the gondeliers sing: "Santa Lucia! (don't eat the olives!)"

In Scandinavia St. Lucy's feast day is the big kick off to Christmas, since "lucy" means "light". The youngest girl dresses in a white dress with a red sash (virgin/martyr) and a lingonberry head wreath and wakes the family up with a tray of coffee and St. Lucy cats, a kind of pastry.

I thought maybe Ikea would have jumped on this, since candles are a huge part of the St. Lucy celebration, but they ignore it all together. After all the "Happy Holidays" fuss at Walmart, I should think Ikea would jump on the 'we love Christmas' bandwagon and crack out St. Lucy, claiming her as their own, even though she was Italian.


Christine the Soccer Mom said...

Forgive me for correcting you, but Saint Cecelia's neck was hit three times by the most skilled executioner and she was not decapitated. We saw the reproduction of her tomb at the Franciscan Monestary in DC, and that was part of my girls' favorite part of the story. (They are 8 and 5.) Cecelia did wind up bleeding to death, slowly!, over three days, but the intention was to slice off her noggin, and the Romans failed to do so. Freaked them out quite a bit, from what the lady at the monestary told us.

I'm really enjoying your blog, by the way. I've been reading it through Bloglines, and love your wit. :)

Sister Mary Martha said...

The point is, Christine, that the sword worked. During the three days, Cecelia put her affairs in order and gave her money to the poor.

Christine the Soccer Mom said...

Very true, Sister! And may Saint Anthony guard me against an unprovided death!

By the way, VERY nice hat you have there. :)

Mom said...

I will never look at olives the same way again.

KatDee said...

Wondering about the chastity thing and why that annoyed the pagans so much:

I think it might have to do with the idea that girl children were good for only one thing to a family: selling or bribing others to take off a family's hands, i.e. marrying them off as producers-of-heirs.

An arrangement has been made, a price has been negotiated, goods or money has exchanged hands, and all of a sudden one half of the deal starts acting like a human with a brain and says, "No, I've taken a vow of chastity because I've converted to an outlaw religion/dedicated myself to God". All of a sudden, this extra mouth to feed/body to clothe and shelter steps outside her expected role and refuses to earn her keep. I can see how that would really make people angry, especially if other girls in similar situations decided to follow suit.

I'm not agreeing with this point of view by the way, for the literal-minded.

Actually, wasn't it you who mentioned the fact that convents at some point in history required novices to pay a dowry, Sister? Did monastaries require monks to pay an up-front upkeep fee as well?

Katherine said...

Good on you Sister, that was very interesting. Saint Bridget plucked out her own eyes for similar reasons (although I think she popped them back in afterward).

dutch said...

You know, that is a nightmarish story. I will have to tell that one to my brother's kidlets. eyeballs on a plate...mercy me. I try to stay chaste too (unless I get married) but behind these hazel eyes will not be a glaring hole of blackness. No, I will not follow her example!

Anonymous said...

Saint Ottilia should perhaps be mentioned here: spectacular family violence and some very useful miracles. She died on St Lucy's day and is often shown with eyeballs - though never with olives.

Anonymous said...

At least one Ikea location in Holland has had decorations for St. Lucy's celebration. (My Swedish friends would always celebrate.)

Anonymous said...

shut up dats all u guys talk about are saints i know they are special but come on!!!