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Saint Lucy

Saint Lucy

written by Mary Thorpe

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:9-13


I knew little of Saint Lucy’s story until I married into a Swedish family, where Saint Lucy is celebrated in an unusual way: a young girl in each family dresses in a white gown and wears a wreath of lit candles upon her head, bringing a breakfast of good strong coffee and sweet cardamom buns. A Sicilian girl  – remember the Italian song “Santa Lucia?” – was martyred in the fourth century but later ended up being a beloved symbol of warmth, light, and sweet hospitality in (generally) Lutheran Nordic countries where “Sankta Lucia” is venerated and celebrated. That leap of cultures is not as strange as it might seem.

Her name means “light,” suggesting that she was a bringer of light, of the light of the one true God in a time when light was in short supply. For centuries her feast was on the shortest day of the year, until Pope Gregory VIII revised the calendar. Now the longest night is the one that bridges December 21st and 22nd, but we needn’t quibble about the numbers: who better than a saint whose name means “light” to offer hope and warmth in the cold, cold north in mid-December? 

We all need a little Lucy-light these days, when it seems that darkness has wrapped us in a spiritual chill. We all need a little sweetness these days, when it seems that the taste of bitterness colors our discourse and sours our bellies. We all need a reminder that there is a light than vanquishes darkness and gives us hope.

The early church may have focused on Lucy’s purity by using the language of virginity, echoed in the white gown of those Swedish Lucias. But perhaps a more apt understanding of her purity is her focus, like the small but potent flame of a candle, on bringing light and love. That unsullied light, that freedom from a space in which we cannot imagine hopeful possibilities, that presence of the energy of youth married to the light of God, seems to echo the light and possibility made incarnate in the person of the infant Jesus. Jesus, the light of the world, whose birth we celebrate in twelve short days. 

We may find ourselves wondering from whence light will come in this troubled world, with its long nights and short and sometimes gray days. Lucy is a turning point, toward a time when the light will overcome the darkness in hours of daylight, but also when the Light will overcome darkness in giving new understanding of God. 

The old Swedish song about Sankta Lucia points in an interesting direction:

Night walks with a heavy step
Round yard and hearth,
As the sun departs from earth,
Shadows are brooding.
There in our dark house,
Walking with lit candles,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Night walks grand, yet silent,
Now hear its gentle wings,
In every room so hushed,
Whispering like wings.
Look, at our threshold stands,
White-clad with light in her hair,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Darkness shall take flight soon,
From earth’s valleys.
So she speaks
Wonderful words to us:
A new day will rise again
From the rosy sky…
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

( accessed November 7, 2019)

The notion that night is not scarily dark in verse two, grand, silent, hushed – that’s a revelation. The expectation, signaled by Lucia carrying the light in her hair, that something new and light and different is coming, redefines the darkness as the womb of possibilities.

We sense something is coming, even in the darkness. We pray that it will come soon. We wonder, and then we see the child haloed with an aurora of light, warmth held in little hands. All will be well. Our beacon, our light is come. 

—Mary Brennan Thorpe


A picture of my niece Hannah from many years ago when she was the Lucia in the family.


The Rev. Dr. Mary Brennan Thorpe is Canon to the Ordinary for the Diocese of Virginia, a wife, mother, grandmother, iconographer, writer, knitter, and lover of opportunities to see old things in new ways. Her prior career as a lobbyist has caused some to wonder if she has gone from the profane to the sacred as a form of repentance. She blogs sporadically at Rev Mibi, and is in the midst of writing two books.


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