Dante and Saint Lucy

Saint Lucy’s Feast is on December 13. It is celebrated in Sweden with young girls wearing wreaths in their hair and serving cinnamon buns to their family early in the morning. In Syracuse, in Sicily, in Italy where she lived, it is celebrated very publicly and over several weeks. But people want her to be a patron of light in either place, perhaps because her name means light.

Saint Lucy appears in the Divine Comedy in Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. She sits close to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Empyrean realm and according to that same Mary, Dante is said to be devoted to Saint Lucy. It is interesting that she is so important because she is the opposite of Satan/Lucifer, sharing the name but standing for goodness, activity, and sight.

I looked through Google briefly to see what popular ideas about Dante and Saint Lucy were, and the answer is not much. There’s a suggestion that Dante had weak eyesight and maybe asked for Saint Lucy’s intercession. Then there’s a discussion about how she came to be the patron of eyesight and whether she lost her eyes at all either by her own action or by someone else’s.

However, in the Divine Comedy, the first three levels of Purgatory emphasize sight. The proud are forced to look down and there are beautiful images for them to meditate on. The envious are not allowed to look at anything at all because their eyes are sewed shut. The wrathful have to walk in a dark cloud that Dante describes as darker than anything he had encountered up to that moment. This darkness is accepted by the wrathful who know there is light outside of their cloud that they must not step into until they are cleansed of their sin.

It is striking to me how completely eyes are associated with the first three, the worst three, levels of sin in Purgatory.

I also wonder whether there is a glancing reference to the three weaknesses described as the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. On the face of it this doesn’t make sense since pride itself, along with envy and wrath, would then be part of the lust of the eyes. The pride of life would include sloth and avarice and the lust of the flesh would be gluttony and lust.

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