13 December was the darkest day of the old Julian calendar. Thus, today in the Gregorian calendar is the feast of St. Lucy, whose name from the Latin for “light”, reminds us who dwell in the still darkening northern hemisphere that our days will soon be getting longer again.
Lucy will usually be depicted in art with a lantern or with her own eyes on a platter. Some accounts have Lucy slain by having her throat thrust through with sword. Other accounts say that to protect her virginity she disfigured herself by cutting her own eyes out and sending them to her suitor, a plot likely to discourage him. St. Lucy is therefore the patroness of sight.
St. Lucy shows up fairly often in Dante’s great Divine Comedy. She is first in the Inferno. It is Lucy who asked Beatrice to help Dante. In Purgatory the eagle that bears Dante upward in a dream is actually Lucy who is bearing him to the gate of Purgatory. Eagles, of course, are “eagle-eyed” and see very well. In the Paradiso she is placed directly across from Adam in the Heaven of the Rose. She can gaze directly at God. It seems that St. Lucy was something of a patroness for Dante and that he was devoted to her because, as we glean from various works, he may have had a problem not just with his eyes but also struggling with sins of the eyes.
This week we also have Ember Days, which in Advent come after the Feast of St. Lucy. Do you remember the little mnemonic poem? “Lenty, Penty, Crucy, Lucy”, or else “”Fasting days and Emberings be / Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and Lucie.” Ember Wednesday will be the Missa aurea.