Exploring the History of Medicine, Part 14: Venice, Part 9

December 1, 2021


Santa Lucia

   Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy in English) is the saint sung about in the Neapolitan folk song "Santa Lucia."

She lived in Syracuse, a town on the island of Sicily in Italy, during the late 3rd to early 4th centuries.

Sicily was under the rule of the Roman Emperor Diocletian.

   During the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, the number of Christians within the Roman government and military was increasing.

Initially, Emperor Diocletian pursued a conciliatory policy towards Christians, but he became wary of their faith, their abandonment of military service, and their resistance to his rule.

The refusal of Christians to worship the emperor further angered Diocletian.

   Finally, in 303 AD, Diocletian issued edicts mandating the forced conversion of Christians, the arrest and imprisonment of all clergy.

That led to widespread persecution of Christians

, burning of the Bible, destruction of churches, and confiscation of property.

It was carried out on an unprecedented scale, and Christians who openly resisted the state were executed, reaching thousands in number throughout the entire Roman Empire.

This is historically known as the "Great Persecution of Diocletian."

   Despite her mother's attempts to arrange a marriage, Lucia rejected the proposal because she determined to preserve her virginity.

She stated that she had a more noble betrothed, namely Jesus Christ.

The spurned suitor, angered by the unyielding Lucia, reported her to the Roman Empire, saying that she was a Christian and should be subjected to burning.

   Soldiers came to arrest Lucia and to present her to the court for questioning.

But, they were unable to move her, and even when tied to a bull, she could not be dragged away.

Lucia remained steadfast like a mountain, protected by the Holy Spirit.

   Then, Lucia endured various tortures, including having molten lead poured into her ears, teeth pulled out, and breasts cut off.

Ultimately, she had her eyes gouged out.

However, a miracle occurred, and Lucia was said to be able to see despite having no eyes.

   From then on, she became venerated as the patron saint of eyesight.

In many paintings and sculptures, she is depicted with her eyeballs placed on a plate or dish.

   During the final attempt to burn her at the stake, the fire would not harm her.

In the end, she was stabbed in the throat with a sword and died.


   "Saint Lucia" Painting by Domenico Beccafumi (16th century) is listed below.

Even in this painting, her eyes, placed on a plate, gaze in our direction.

In her right hand, she holds the sword that pierced her throat.

Let's not delve into why Lucia, who had her eyes gouged out, is depicted with open eyes.