Saint Lucia, a Martyr Beloved in Dalmatia

Saint Lucia, a Martyr Beloved in Dalmatia

Photo by Slobodna Dalmacija

When I was a child older people in my family used to tell me stories how they celebrate different holidays, especially in this part of the year, when we await for Christmas. Traditions are endless, but there was always one of those days that stood up, Saint Lucia day celebrated on December 13. As I explained in last week's blog, unlike some other parts of Croatia this day in Dalmatia was always more important than Saint Nicholas, especially for kids, and probably under influence of Venice.

There is a link between Lucia and Split, although not the pretty one. Lucia was a martyr from Syracuse on Sicily, who died in 304 AD during one of persecutions of early Christians under rule of Emperor Diocletian, just a year before he moved into his retirement palace built to start what we know today as Split. She was a historical figure, born in noble and rich family, but her martyrdom was described in at least two legends.

When her mother got ill, Lucia visited Saint Agatha's grave in Catania to pray for mother's health. There, she had an epiphany that her mother will recover, but she will suffer martyrdom. Hearing that, Lucia gave away all her possessions to poor people, just like Nicholas. Her fiancé was furious and he denounced Lucia as a Christian. As one of legends says, soldiers tried to take her to prison, but they couldn't move her even with ox dragging her. They tried to burn her, fire didn't touch her. She died only when one of soldiers cut her throat.

Another story says that one of young men who wanted to marry her was amazed with beauty of her eyes, and kept trying to force her to love him. Being virtuous as she was, she declined all of his efforts, and to prevent him to sin she took out her own eyes, and sent them to him on a platter. When he saw that sacrifice, and courage, but also because of guilt, young man became a Christian. Virgin Mary gave her new eyes, even more beautiful. Because of her name - derived in Latin word lux, which means light - she is usually associated with a light as a symbol of divine wisdom. Ever since her sacrifice, Lucia is worshipped as a patron saint of eyes and sight.

As we learned, Lucia was Diocletian's contemporary, and ironically, from early medieval times crypt in emperor's mausoleum (today's cathedral) in Split was turned into a chapel dedicated to her. This place with a well is a place of pilgrimage on Saint Lucia's Day, when people collect water from the well to wash their eyes. Also, there is a custom of leaving written prayers next to the saint's statue. If you pass by the cathedral you will probably see people going to the crypt. This is what it usually looks like. Unfortunately this year the custom might be one of many victims of COVID-19 pandemic because it's hard to maintain distance in the narrow crypt.

At home, people usually seed a Christmas wheat which will show you how rich and prosperous the next year will be. Some believe that weather next year will be the same like in 12 days between Saint Lucia's day and Christmas, one day for each month. Those with eyes problems dedicate her prayers to Lucia, and it's usual not to work anything that requires eyes effort. And as for presents, children leave socks under their pillow, and excitement next morning is like always when they get presents, even modest like on this occasion.