The Story of Saint Lucia (and how a Catholic saint came to be celebrated in the Protestant North)

 

 

Saint Lucia

Today is the 13th of December, a day that throughout of Scandinavia and some of Northern Germany is celebrated as The Day of Saint Lucia.

The 13th of December was originally celebrated as a Catholic saint’s day day, so why does the Protestant North celebrate this day under the name of a Catholic Saint?

The Holy Saint Lucia is the patron saint of Syracuse in Italy whose saint’s day falls on the 13th of December. Lucia is thought to have lived during the rule of Diocletian, and it was at the hands of his officials that she faced a martyr’s death.

Lucia, depicted with her eyes in a bowl

The reason that Lucia was painted carrying her eyes outside of their appointed place is that, according to myth, she desired to be a bride of Christ so ardently that she ripped out her eyes so that a man could never see their beauty and fall in love with him.

The story goes that her mother was sick, so the young girl travelled with her mother to the grave of holy Agatha to pray, and during her session of prayer, Lucia saw in a vision that she was to become the patron saint of Syracuse. Her mother became instantly well.

Upon her betterment Lucia’s mother made plans to wed Lucia to a Roman man who, to the Christian Lucia, was a heathen. She refused and refused and the Roman man then vengefully accused her of being a Christian to the officials. They gave her the choice of burning an offering  to the Roman Emperor but Lucia said that she had no more to offer, she had offered it all up to God. It was instead decided to make Lucia the offer and burn her alive, but the men come to fetch her from her mother’s home, could not drag her from the doorstep to the pyre, not even when they used oxen. Lucia said to them that the Holy Spirit was protecting her and the Romans arranged for an executioner to come to her instead and she was killed in her mother’s home. She was martyred and later declared a saint by the church, patron saint of Syracuse and helper of the blind as she was also believed to have plucked out her own eyes, so that no man should see their beauty and fall thus in love.

But how did a Catholic saint’s day come to be celebrated in the Lutheran Scandinavia?

Children at a school walk in the traditional Lucia Procession

Accoir the Julian calender, the 13th of December is the shortest day of the year. (According to the Gregorian calender which we now use, it is the 21st of December that has that particular honour.)

The Swedish have celebrated the Lucia-night (Lusse-nat), from the 16th century onwards, especially in the Western part of the country. In the morninghours of the 13th all the young girls in the household rise early to wake up the rest of the household with coffee and saffron-buns in the pitch-black of the Scandinavian winter mornings. It developed to become a countrywide tradition and to this day every Swedish city elects a Lucia-bride who goes on to the capital, Stockholm, to perhaps become the country’s Lucia-bride. Amongst her prices is a trip to Syracuse.

In Denmark the first Lucia-procession was held during the Nazi occupation of the mid-forties, as a show of peaceful resistance and a reminder of hope. After the war, when candles became readily available again, the tradition spread to the entire country and since then every school and church has held Lucia processions. Amongst the girls a Lucia-bride is chosen and she wears a crown of candles, as well as a candle in her hands. After her come the bridesmaids, with candles in their hands. In the back of the procession walk the usually reluctant boys handing out peppernuts to the onlookers, and alongside the children is a teacher, or other grown-up, carrying a bucket of water in case the crown slips or a child is unobservant with his or her candle.

Everybody wears white gowns with a red ribbon tied around their waist. I’ve walked in four of five processions, since my first school was a Christian one. We had to do a procession in church, school and a retirement home.

I was never the bride. It hurts still 😉

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A Royal Prussian Summer Home

Yes, I know this blog is called Writing The Renaissance and I promise you that it will actually contain content pertaining to said period. But it just to happens that I spent part of my summer holiday in Berlin, and once in Berlin I couldn’t resist visiting the old 17th century Charlottenburg Schloss, or Castle.

Charlottenburg was erected between 1695 and 1699, and originally named Lietzenburg, it was intended as a summer residence for Sophie Charlotte, wife of the Elector Frederick, who in 1701 went on to become King of Prussia, Frederick the First. It was upon Sophie Charlotte’s death that the castle was renamed Charlottenburg.

The castle is built in the Italian Baroque style, and seperated into two wings, which are nowadays called the Old Wing and the New Wing. And I will say, that if there was one thing that annoyed me upon visiting, it was that you had to be two admission tickets, one for the Old Wing and one for the New Wing. And they were both 10 euros, and then extra if you wanted permission to photograph. As a result, knowing that I’ll be back in Berlin soon enough, I only visited the Old Wing. I do regret not visiting the New Wing, but being a student I simply couldn’t defend spending 20 euros on admittance to one museum alone.

The downstairs of the Old Wing is kept in a very recognisable rococo-style, with everything that entails of gilded ceilings, tapestries and chinoiserie. Being that Charlottenburg is a summer residence it’s not a very big castle, and walking through the wing you’re following a very natural path, taking you through the private and public rooms of the royal family. It’s not incredibly big, and the reason for that is probably that the castle wouldn’t have been used for anything beyond socialising. At any rate, the castle has a very intimate feel about it.

As I mentioned the nod to China, the so-called chinoiserie, was ever-present throughout especially the rooms belonging to the female members of the dynasty. Above is a detail from a spinet where you can see Chinese ladies playing in their gardens, presumably at the Imperial Chinese court or something similar.

There even was an entire room, walls entirely covered by mirrors for some reason, where what I presume to be original china (I can’t really tell the difference, but as it used to be a royal castle I don’t think my assumption is entirely wrong), was proudly displayed in golden cases in displays like the one above. Yes, even complete with the figurines. Yes, all four walls. I admit that I did quite a double-take upon entering the room, which made a curator look at me like he thought I was rather odd, but I’ve honestly never seen anything like it.

Of course, no castle is complete without a chapel, and this is where the Prussians worshipped in the summer. I found it quite beautiful, though there seemed to be quite a lot going on to my Protestant eyes. I’m not averse, by any means, to decoration in churches, I actually find it quite beautiful, but I’m not used to it from visiting Danish churches.

On the opposite end to the altar and pew, there is this display and if anyone held any doubts as to whether the monarchs themselves believed in the divine right of the sovereign ruler, I think they can be put to rest quite gently upon seeing this.

This is a painting which hung in the first room you entered once upstairs – from the chapel you entered into a sort of grey area, with restrooms, and then out under the (very low, watch your heads!) staircase which was set in a very bright and white passageway in which there also hang some terribly racist paintings that I didn’t get any good shots of. Otherwise, there’d be a whole post on the Western perceptions of the Noble Savage, right there.

The painting portrays either a coronation or a wedding, but as there were no plaques on any paintings in the castle (by far, the most annoying thing), I couldn’t say. I think it’s a wedding though. I got really close to it, though, and it had some very lovely details of the crowd gathered.

Elisabeth Ludovika of Bavaria

The upstairs of the Old Wing were held in a decidedly different style than the downstairs, post-French Revolution and neo-classicist entirely. Where the downstairs was very colourful, lots of tapestries and such, the upstairs left a much paler and whiter impression, with white walls and so on.

I think this is Elisabeth of Bavaria again, and her ladies, dressed up Medieval ladies. Elisabeth’s husband became king in 1840, right when Romanticism in Europe was at its heights, and there was a raging fascination with all things Medieval. They look rather lovely, don’t they?

The German eagle, so sadly hijacked by Hitler and his Nazis, but lest we forget, it’s no different from the American bald eagle and nothing makes me happier than seeing Germans use it to express pride in their nation, for example in relation to the World Cup which had just ended (with Germany winning bronze and not gold as they should have, grrr) when I was in Berlin. Young Germans aren’t as afraid as their parents and certainly grandparents were, of using their flag and other national symbols nowadays, which is really a step in the right direction.

An Angelic Muse of some sort.

This is what his plaque says, anyhow. Homer, Horatius, Shakespeare, Dante, Calderon, Someone I Can’t Make Out, Goethe. When I explained this painting to a friend he casually remarked that it was the equivalent of hanging an Andy Warhol or somesuch, poster on your wall. It says a whole lot about you in the way that it communicates your desire to show how into art or literature you are. Either way, I had a good chuckle over this.

A lovely marble bust that I’m very sorry to admit that I can’t id. I love her nose, it’s so full of character. (If you know who it is, please let me know, I hate not knowing these things.)

The medieval headdress on this one and the complete lack of writing on the bust leads me to believe that this is a woman playing dress-up, or perhaps just an imagination based upon a courtier.

The upstairs also included a room where all the paintings where of the Virgin Mary, and one where all the paintings where of Roman locations, such as the a church with nuns praying, the Pope’s chair and a river with sailors sailing by a church in the morning. It had a slightly chaotic but quite lovable feel to it, altogether.

This is the view from the gardens, which are now a public park right on the Spree and quite a lovely spot indeed. How’s that for a first proper post?

Next time I’m in Berlin I vowed to myself to not only visit the New Wing but also Sanssouci, the German Versailles. Until next time, fair readers~