Santa Lucia of the gondoliers brought home to Sicily after a millennium

After wandering around Europe for more than 1,100 years, little Saint Lucy of Syracuse, the virgin martyr who - after an appalling death - became known as "the immovable one", has come home.

After wandering around Europe for more than 1,100 years, little Saint Lucy of Syracuse, the virgin martyr who - after an appalling death - became known as "the immovable one", has come home.

Thousands of devotees of the saint waited for her remains in Syracuse, Sicily, this week, waving white handkerchiefs to greet the arrival of the remains of what Italians call "the most kidnapped saint in Paradise". Venice had been home to her for so long that the gondoliers' song "Santa Lucia" had become part of the lagoon city's identity. But after a 12-year struggle for possession between the two cities, the patron saint of eyesight, of the blind, of lucidity and of photographers has come back to the ancient city where she was born.

Little is known for certain about the life of Lucia of Syracuse, but she was one of many Christian victims of the 3rd century Roman Emperor Diocletian. She was the child of wealthy parents but her father died when she was still young, and in adolescence she secretly took a vow of chastity.

Her mother, Eutychia, knowing nothing of the vow, arranged her marriage to a prominent pagan in Syracuse. Lucy managed for years to keep the man at bay, and finally explained why to her mother. She was in a good mood, having undertaken a pilgrimage with Lucy that led to the miraculous cure of a disease from which she had been suffering, and backed her daughter's resolution.

The young man was furious, and denounced Lucy as a Christian to the governor of Sicily.

The bitter martyrdom duly unfolded. Lucy was to be punished, like many Christian girls, by being forced into prostitution. But when the guards came to drag her to the brothel, they could not move her.

Faggots were piled up around her and set alight: Lucy refused to burn. Her eyeballs were gouged out - God presented her with a new pair (she is often depicted holding out one set of eyeballs on a plate). Finally they stabbed her through the throat. She died on 13 December 304, aged 21 and still a virgin.

One thousand seven hundred years plus a few days later, she is home again - though given her tumultuous after-life, it would be a rash person who bet on her having a peaceful future.

Her first half-millennium was the best: she rested in the church in Syracuse built in her memory. But in 878, as marauding Islamic Saracens threatened Syracuse, the relics were put in a secret place.

But not safe enough: in 1039 a Byzantine general, Maniacus, stole them and removed them to Constantinople. In 1204 the great 41st Doge of Venice, Enrico Dandolo, in his eighties and half-blind, the man who at a stroke turned Venice into an imperial power, stole Lucy's corpse from Byzantium.

She was brought to Venice and installed in the church of San Giorgio, but was to move twice more inside the city, arriving in 1313 at the city church named in her honour. But Lucy still had centuries of wandering ahead of her.

The industrial revolution arrived: in 1860 the church of Santa Lucia was demolished to make way for the railway station. Lucy shifted to the church of St Geremia. A century later, on 7 November 1981, robbers stole all her bones, except her head. Police recovered them five weeks later, on her saint's day. The priest of San Giorgio, desperate at losing her, lashed himself to one of her arms; to mollify him, he was allowed to retain the arm. Other parts of the corpse found their way to Rome, Naples, Verona, Lisbon, Milan, Germany, France.

Witnesses at the ceremony on Wednesday said she was looking good: her cranium resting on a red cushion, a silver mask over her face, her body clothed in a red garment with a golden fringe, dotted with pearls. "It's as if she was mummified," said Bishop Giuseppe Costantini, who according to Corriere della Sera newspaper, fought "like a lion" for the return.

He said: "For those who feel the universal breath of the Church, distance is of no importance. Whether Santa Lucia is in Venice, Syracuse or Sydney it's all the same." This is a fine example of Christian hypocrisy - Syracuse is glad and proud to have her back.

News
i100
Life and Style
Cooked up: reducing dietary animal fat might not be as healthy as government advice has led millions of people to believe
healthA look at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Sport
Neil Warnock
football'New' manager for Crystal Palace
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Voices
voices
Sport
Roger Federer is greeted by Michael Jordan following his victory over Marinko Matosevic
tennisRoger Federer gets Michael Jordan's applause following tweener shot in win over Marinko Matosevic
News
peopleJustin Bieber accuses paparazzi of acting 'recklessly' after car crash
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Oppressive atmosphere: the cast of 'Tyrant'
tvIntroducing Tyrant, one of the most hotly anticipated dramas of the year
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Teacher September strt with view to permanent post

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: IT...

Qualified Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Crawley: This independent Nursery is looking fo...

Qualified Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Crawley: This independent Nursery is looking fo...

Merger and Acquisition Project Manager

£500 - £550 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently...

Day In a Page

Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis