Who was Santa Lucia: in addition to the arancine, a tour of the churches of Palermo dedicated to her
The history of the Saint and of the grain vessel that fed the people of Palermo and gave birth to the cuccì is intertwined with an itinerary among the city churches that concern its history.
As we all know, with regard to the day in which Saint Lucia is commemorated, it is traditionally said that in 1646 a terrible famine raged here in Palermo. Until December 13, the feast of the Saint, a ship loaded with grain arrived in the city. The hungry people did not waste time reducing it to bread flour and consumed it immediately after having simply boiled it.
Thus was born the famous “cuccìa” that the Palermo-born, sweet-toothed gourmands, over time took care of enriching with ricotta, milk or chocolate cream, creating one of the most typical and appreciated desserts in the city. On this day, traditionally, neither bread nor pasta is consumed and so the Palermo cuisine has indulged itself with other tasty alternatives. Choice of panelle, cazzilli (croquettes) and potato or rice gateau. In any case, the gastronomic scepter of this day must certainly be given to the rice arancina prepared in a thousand ways, one more appetizing than the other.
But who was Saint Lucia and why is she so venerated? Of course also on his figure history and legend merge together, but we know by default that she was a beautiful girl born in Syracuse at the end of the 3rd century AD in a noble and rich Christian family. After having obtained, through the intercession of Sant’Agata, the healing of a disease that tormented her own mother Eutichia, she wanted to devote herself to God. Having known, her promised spouse reported her to the court of the Roman Empire, thus making her undergo a trial during which she firmly professed her religion.
It was therefore martyred, traditionally even with the removal of the eyes, which however were recreated. In fact it is officially represented with a small tray on which holds the eyes that were torn from it during martyrdom. Finally she was beheaded or, according to other sources, pierced by a sword blow to the throat. The veneration for Saint Lucia quickly spread by choosing for her feast December 13, considered the shortest and darkest day of the year when more light was needed (Lucia = light).
The Saint is the patron saint of Syracuse, of the blind, of the ophthalmologists, of the electricians and is invoked against eye diseases. In Palermo several churches have been dedicated to her and I would like to mention a few. Among the most famous and ancient ones, although today no longer existing because it was bombed in 1943 and then finally demolished, that of Santa Lucia al Borgo deserves a place of respect. It was located right at the Borgo Vecchio in the Ucciardone plain, in that pier which then took the name of Santa Lucia.
In 1577 the Carmelite Fathers took care of this church. Then in 1581 the Fathers of the Order of the Trinity, arrived in the city on May 27, 1580, built their convent attached to the church by permission of Archbishop Cesare Marullo. But in 1589 they moved to the church of San Demetrio, considering these sacred factories too far from the city. In fact they were “extra moenia”, that is, outside the old walls of Palermo. This is how the Reformed Conventual Fathers of St. Francis took over in 1593 and on August 31, 1600 was elevated to a public parish with the title of Santa Maria di Monserrato.
After the destruction of the church of Santa Lucia al Borgo, some of its furnishings (such as altars and some marble elements) were moved to the church of San Luigi Gonzaga in via Ugdulena; while the baptismal font was taken to the church of Santa Maria di Monserrato in piazza Croci, to which its parochial title was also transferred. Today a new church of Santa Lucia al Borgo is located in Piazza della Pace, in front of the Ucciardone prison. Another church with its conservatory for orphan girls was called Santa Lucia at Monte Oliveto and was located on the Capo, behind the church of the Badia Nuova (which is next to the Cathedral), but was later abandoned due to the unhealthy air of the marshy area of Papireto.
Therefore the nuns moved to the Church of the Grand Chancellor (we talked about it here) bringing with them a marble statue of Saint Lucia for which they had much devotion. Now the title of Santa Lucia al Monte is held by the Church in Via Ruggero Settimo. We also remember that the old title of the monastery of the beautiful church of Santa Maria Valverde in via Squarcialupo is precisely that of Santa Lucia (here our story), as evidenced by the spectacular chapel inside, by Nicola Musca from 1694.
The church no longer exists of the Infirmary of the Friars Minor Capuchin, which is located between Via Biscottari, vicolo Brugnò and vicolo San Tommaso dei Greci, was named after S. Lucia.
And another beautiful nineteenth-century church that can still be admired today, obviously dedicated to the Saint, is the one inside the Institute of the Blind in via Angiò (here the article).
Between history and tradition, we wish everyone a good “arancina day”, as it is now commonly and profanely called the day of Saint Lucia, reflecting that a little thought to turn to the Saint is at least a duty, thanks to the famous ship of grain that fed the palermitans on his feast day. And considering that even today, according to the custom, they dedicate themselves to taste the typical and delicious dishes prepared for this occasion.
As always, we at the Federico Secondo bed and breakfast are waiting for you in Palermo for a stay as a king, comfortable rooms, a central location and a rich breakfast await you for your stay in Palermo.