SANTA LUCIA:  During the darkest nights, a celebration of light in Sicily. Scroll down to view the photo slideshow in Syracusa.

According to popular legend Lucia lived and died (about 304 AD) on the island of Ortygia, a part of Syracusa in Sicily. She had embraced the monotheist Christian faith at a young age. When she refused to marry a high ranking pagan suitor, she was condemned to be burned, but strong winds put out the bond fire.

Paschasius the ruling Roman tyrant, had her eyes gouged out when Lucia continued to refuse to renounce her faith.

Santa Lucia is represented in images and statuary holding her eyes wide open on an oval silver platter, and often with a dagger piercing her throat.  The virgin martyr has been attributed countless miracles since and is invoked as the protector against eye trouble.  Her remains were looted from Syracusa and traveled to many places before being taken to Constantinople. Once retrieved her relics were brought back to Italy and are now enshrined in San Geremia’s church in Venice.

On Santa Lucia’s fiesta day, every13th of December, oranges and wheat are on display around the island, an offering dating back to antiquity when the temple, the base for the current cathedral, was dedicated to the Greek goddess of agriculture. Starting on the central plaza in Ortygia, men from the brotherhood of carpenters carry her massive silver statue on theirs shoulders out of the cathedral, while loudly calling her name.  Wending their way slowly through the narrow ancient streets, surrounded by a dense crowd, they cross the bridge to the mainland in the cool of the December night. Hours later the procession reaches the white marble sepulture dedicated to her cult, which lies underground in the town of Syracusa.  After the New Year the silver statue is brought back home.

For slide show and music click on small left arrow.

Curiously Santa Lucia is also celebrated nationally in Sweden on the same date. Local mythology records the saint as saving the country from famine.  Early in the morning young women dressed in white robes, wake up the family (or hold a town procession) headed by one girl wearing a crown of evergreen and lit candles, others accompanying her hold one candle each as they sing a melodious refrain chanting her name.