· St Lucy celebrated on 13 December ·
You may have thought that
the one well known saint in (post)-Protestant
But that is not the case.
There is another saint who plays a far greater role in Swedish society today —
Santa Lucia, the Sicilian maiden who in the fourth century was blinded and
martyred for her faith. In virtually every school, in every pre-school and day
care center, in many hotels, restaurants, shops and workplaces of every kind,
there is a Santa Lucia procession on 13 December. Many a Nobel Laureate in
The red silk sash
traditionally worn with the white Lucia robe is supposed to symbolize the
martyrdom of Santa Lucia. But I would not say that all Swedes know about the
connection to the Sicilian saint. It might, in fact, be fair to speak of two
traditions — one Sicilian, one Scandinavian. Like Christmas, the Santa Lucia
To say that Swedes — often looked upon as a modernistic, if not to say futuristic people — are fanatically attached to the Santa Lucia tradition is not an exaggeration. And at the core of the tradition, I think, is singing. The Santa Lucia song itself is, of course, imported from Italy But traditionally, Santa Lucia and her maids-in-waiting also sing old Swedish hymns and songs, some with roots in the Middle Ages and sung also in Catholic churches, such as “Det är en ros utsprungen” (German: “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen”).
Cultural customs have
origins, but they can also transcend borders. For the last four years, Mtarfa,
a small Catholic parish in the
But the beauty of a traditional Santa Lucia celebration was perhaps best expressed by an ex-pupil of my father’s. She fainted during the procession, and when she woke up she said: “It was beautiful. So beautiful. The white robes. The candles. The music and singing. I thought I was in heaven. But then I saw the Head Mistress.”
Ulla Gudmundson, Former Swedish Ambassador to the Holy See
St. Peter’s Square
Aug. 18, 2019
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