Saint Lucy with her eyes on a plate

One of many Christian saints reputedly martyred by the emperor Diocletian – Saint Lucy – is the patron saint of the blind. Appropriately as it goes because she either had her eyes gouged out by a Roman soldier or tore out her own eyes (no, really!) according to whichever source you read. This is a depiction below in ‘azulejos’ (Portuguese tiles) in a church in the town of Obidos. You always know Lucy because she has her eyes on a plate.

And I don’t mean she’s hungry. I mean her eyes are literally on that plate.

The tales of martyrdom of saints under Diocletian tend to be so over the top as to test your credulity. People being beheaded, picking their heads up, and screaming: Have another go! Saints who are boiled, set alight, and torn apart but still refuse to die. I’m exaggerating – but only a bit.

Lucy was Italian and yet she is venerated to a significant degree in Sweden. A girl processes around with a tiara of large candles ever December 13. And where are Lucy’s eyes you may wonder? After all, it’s not like the Catholic church to miss an opportunity for a ghoulish relic. Well, her eyes are to be found at the church of San Giovanni Maggiore in Naples – which was built on what was once a temple to the gay lover of the Emperor Hadrian, Antinous, who drowned in the river Nile.

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