Saint Lucia, example of light and peace, a restless martyr lying in Venice for 900 years and protector of pilgrims

9 December 2021

She is considered the protector of the eyes, of opticians, ophthalmologists, electricians, and children. In some Northern cities, the 13th December, Saint Lucia’s night is a magical night. Children cannot wait for it because, according to the tradition, the Saint brings gifts and sweets to kids who behaved well the whole year. In Venice, thousands of pilgrims go and visit her remains, preserved in the Church of San Geremia, better known as the shrine of Saint Lucia. Right in Venice, Lucia finds peace after many happenings.

The opening of the celebrations in honour of the Saint consists of the “Nova lux” concert realised by the composer and opera singer Gloria Bruni, on Saturday, December 11 at 18. An event which is part of the cultural exhibition scheduling dedicated to the 1600 years of Venice, allowing also people to see the restoration work affecting the shrine. The event comprehends the execution of different pieces of sacred music composed by Bruni, by performing as a soprano in the Lux quartet (composed of the first parts of the La Fenice Theatre orchestra) and by playing oboe, and guitar.

The history of the remains of Saint Lucia has distant roots, belonging to the 1600 years of the existence of the Serenissima. Lucia is one of the most important figures for Christian worship. She was born in Siracusa into a noble family around in 283. The young girl was betrothed to a pagan, she decides to consecrate herself to the Lord by making a vow for virginity and by expressing her decision to devolve her possessions to poor people. The same young boy who desired to marry her, reported her to the prefect. According to the tradition, the 13th December 304, Lucia passed away by being cruelly tortured. Numerous miracles were attributed to her even before dying. For this reason, when she has survived the stake uninjured, she was decapitated or stabbed in her throat, according to Latin sources.

Her body remained for several centuries in Siracusa until 1039, when her remains were taken to Costantinopoli as spoils of war, given to the Empress Theodora by the General Maniace, who has brought Siracusa out the Islamic supremacy. In that moment, Venice comes into play thanks to the doge Enrico Dandolo during the IV crusade in 120, figure who makes Saint Lucia’s remains pick up and send towards Venice.

The remains of the Saint firstly were moved to the church located in the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. However, in 1279 during a crowded pilgrimage, the rough sea turned upside down the boats in procession to the island, by killing some devout followers. In this manner, a new idea comes up: displacing the positioning from the island to the town. Then, the senate of the Serenissima identifies the Church of Santa Maria Annunziata in Cannaregio. The 18th January 1280, Saint Lucia’s remains are moved through a solemn procession and, therefore, the church is dedicated to the worship of Saint Lucia. 

The martyr from Syracuse could not rest forever, here either.  In 1806, by approving a Napoleonic decree, the religious community was abolished and the church and the convent were demolished between 1861 and 1863, because of the construction of a new train station. In memory of the place of worship, the new train station was called “Venice Saint Lucia”.

The remains were moved to the Church of Saint Geremia: thanks to this, the church named after San Geremia was also dedicated to Saint Lucia.

The remains of Saint Lucia could not rest in peace not even in San Geremia. In 1981 her remains were even the subject of crime news in town: on November 7, two youngsters broke the case glass and stole the remains, enveloped in red velvet. However, they leaved there her head and the silver mask covering it. For a whole month, her remains could not be found, until a New Year’s Day appeared in the Montiron sandbar in the Venetian lagoon, in a plastic bag. In this manner, the corpse were recreated 36 days later, the 13th December 1981, when Lucia was brought to the church and repositioned in the red velvet realised by the same nuns who created her garments in the past. Eventually, in this place, the Saint is resting in peace in her new display case made of bulletproof glass and thanks to a new alarm system installation. During 900 years she has been protecting all the pilgrims, according to the inscription reported outside of the shrine: “Lucia Vergine di Siracusa in questo tempio riposa. All’Italia e al mondo ispiri luce e pace” (Virgin Lucia from Siracusa in this temple is resting. You inspire light and peace to Italy and to the entire world).