The name of Lucy has been venerated from an early date, and it is fairly certain that she died a martyr in Syracuse, Cicily, during the persecutions of Diocletian. However, there is little evidence for the stories associated with her life and death. According to tradition she vowed to remain a virgin, and refused to marry the suitor chosen for her. On being banished to a brothel she was miraculously rescued, and later saved from death by fire. She was tortured and repeatedly stabbed, finally being killed by a sword thrust in her throat.
Because the name Lucy suggests light, she has become the patron of people suffering from eye disease. In art she is often represented holding a dish containing two eyes.
An old Swedish legend tells that long ago, at a time of severe famine, St Lucia appeared on the darkest night of the year bringing light and a shipload of food. The custom has since developed all over Sweden (and other Scandinavian countries) of a girl, often the youngest daughter of the household, being dressed in white as a Lucia Queen, wearing a crown of candles and visiting every member of the family with gifts of coffee and ‘Lucia rolls’. This is almost certainly an adaptation of pre-Christian Yule ceremonies (‘juul’ means shortest day) which included a Queen of Light.