Lucy vs. John the Baptist

February 15, 2013
Tim Schenck

"Ash Week" continues with an intriguing match up between two martyrs, Lucy and John the Baptist. It's a tough choice but please don't lose your head over the decision. The winner will get ahead and make it to the Round of the Saintly Sixteen. The loser will be metaphorically re-martyred. See, Lent Madness is easy: we present all of our choices to you on a silver platter.

In the very first match up of Lent Madness 2013, Jonathan Daniels soundly defeated Macrina the Younger to advance to the next round. We're pleased to report that voting was very heavy with over 4,500 votes cast. And if you're new to Lent Madness, make sure to check out the comment stream throughout the day and perhaps even leave one of your own. It's fascinating and informative to hear why people are voting a certain way and many share their own personal experiences with a particular saint. In other words, you're now part of a true online community of people seeking inspiration during Lent from an amazing and diverse group of spiritual heroes.

Can't get enough of Lent Madness? You're in luck because tomorrow is the one and only day in Lent that we'll have a weekend vote. The anticipated Battle of the Iggys -- Ignatius of Antioch vs. Ignatius of Loyola -- will take place on Saturday. In the meantime, keep spreading the word about Lent Madness! Share links with your friends of all denominations, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or walk around your neighborhood with a homemade Lent Madness sandwich board.


Not much is actually known about St. Lucy (Santa Lucia in Italian) other than that she was born into a wealthy family in Syracuse (Italy) in the late Third Century and was martyred while still a young woman in the Diocletian persecution in 303.

Tradition has it, however, that Lucy, like many young women of her day, wished to remain a virgin rather than marry the pagan to whom her parents betrothed her. After Lucy's prayers of intercession healed her mother of a debilitating illness, her mother granted Lucy's fervent wish to remain unmarried and instead distribute her dowry to the poor in Syracuse. The erstwhile fiancé, however, was not a fan of this distribution plan and in his rage at her rejection of him denounced Lucy to the Roman Governor as a Christian. She was first taken to a brothel so that she might be forced to surrender her virginity, but the guards who came for her found her too heavy to move even when hitched to a team of oxen, so filled was she with the Holy Spirit. Still, she was imprisoned, tortured, and finally killed when she did not renounce her dedication to Christ and affirm allegiance to the Emperor.

Sometimes Lucy is depicted as holding a platter with a pair of eyes upon it. The story goes that Lucy’s eyes were either plucked out by her torturers or plucked out by Lucy herself in repudiation of her fiancé, who found Lucy’s eyes appealing. Some versions of the story have God restoring her sight with even more beautiful eyes. At any rate, she is the patron saint of the blind and those with eye diseases.

Her name means "light" and her feast day is celebrated by families in Northern Europe by dressing the eldest daughter in a white robe and placing a wreath with lighted candles on her head. Sometimes a village’s “Lucy” carries bread and coffee to all the homes in the village as a re-enactment of Lucy’s kindness to the poor in the distribution of her dowry. Her feast day is a day of special devotion in her native Italy, as well, where the emphasis is on food, particularly hot chocolate with grains of wheat (to represent her eyes) in it.

Lucy was a much venerated, very popular saint in the early Church, and her name is included, along with only six other women, in both the Roman and Ambrosian Canons of the Mass.

Collect for Lucy
Saint Lucy, your beautiful name signifies light. By the light of faith which God bestowed upon you, increase and preserve this light in my soul so that I may avoid evil, be zealous in the performance of good works, and abhor nothing so much as the blindness and the darkness of evil and of sin. By your intercession with God, obtain for me perfect vision for my bodily eyes and the grace to use them for God's greater honor and glory and the salvation of all men. Saint Lucy, virgin and martyr, hear my prayers and obtain my petitions. Amen.

-- Penny Nash

leonardo-da-vinci-painting-st-john-the-baptistJohn the Baptist

He’s one of the reasons more Episcopal Churches are named St. John than any other name.

John the Baptist (not to be confused with John the disciple or John the Divine, author of Revelation – yes, like today there were lots of Johns back then…) was the son of a priest in the Temple – Zachary. His mother was Elizabeth, who was related to Mary, Jesus’ mother.  Thus, John the Baptist was related to Jesus, perhaps his cousin. Many people believe John the Baptist was born in Ain-Karim, which is southwest of Jerusalem. This followed an apparition in which the angel Gabriel told Zachary and his wife that they would have a child, even though Elizabeth was past child-bearing years.

Many scholars believe John lived in the desert, perhaps as a hermit. He may have been affiliated with a group known as the Essenes, whose communal life was chronicled in the Dead Sea Scrolls. This pietistic, separatist group had removed itself from the evils of the big city, Jerusalem, in order to practice the Jewish faith with greater purity in a desolate, desert environment. We find expressions of this in John’s later preaching of repentance.

John’s public ministry started when he was around 30-years-old. The Gospels tell us that John preached a harsh message, calling his hearers a ‘brood of vipers’ and imploring them to repent and start anew. John also understood his role to pave the way for Jesus, declaring he was not worthy to untie the sandals from the Messiah’s feet. John would go on to baptize Jesus in the River Jordan. During this event a dove came down from heaven and the voice of God was heard announcing that Jesus was God’s son.

Following his ministry of baptism, John remained critical of those who did not fear God. He was eventually imprisoned by Herod for correctly accusing the leader of taking his brother’s wife. During his incarceration, John began to have doubts, at one point sending some of his followers to Jesus to confirm he was really the Messiah.

John was needlessly executed after a young dancer named Salome so impressed Herod with her performance that he promised her anything – and, at the urging of her mother, she chose John the Baptist’s head to be served on a platter.

John inspired many of his followers to trust Christ when he designated Him "the Lamb of God." Some of those followers were Andrew and John, who came to know Christ through John's preaching. John is described in the New Testament as the last of the Old Testament prophets and the precursor of the Messiah. His feast day is June 24th and the feast for his death is August 29th.

Collect for John the Baptist
Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth's sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- Chris Yaw


UDPATE: The Supreme Executive Committee has found several instances of voting irregularity in this poll. At this point, three addresses have been cast into the outer darkness of Lent Madness. We have adjusted the vote totals by removing 35 votes for John the Baptist. Remember: in Lent Madness, we encourage you to mobilize your friends to vote. But we frown mightily on those who vote more than once.

[poll id="41"]


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245 comments on “Lucy vs. John the Baptist”

  1. 2 Martyrs! I guess that eliminates the martyr vs non-martyr issue. Went with John since the info on Lucy is just too sketchy

    1. I agree with Paul. Much as I love the candle headdresses, the info on Lucy is too sketchy for me.

    2. Sketchy or not (and what isn't just a bit on the sketchy side, when those who witnessed the acts of said saint died centuries earlier??), Lucy's story is VERY compelling.

  2. Had to go for John the Baptist--he's a really heavy-hitter. I also have always thought it rather sobering that the church considers him important enough to have a feast for his birthday-into-mortal-life as well as the traditional feast for his birthday-into-immortality, like most saints.

      1. Hear! Hear!John the B gets all the air time. It's time Lucy get the acknowledgment for her simple and powerful faith.

  3. I went with Lucy to see what celebrity blogger Penny Nash can reveal if Lucy makes it to the Saintly Sixteen. And, besides, anyone who is "heavy with the Holy Spirit" deserves a heavy voter turnout in her favor.

    1. oh, this helped me decide. I love John the Baptist, but will definitely vote for Lucy because of the advances with the bionic eye.

      1. I watched The Walking Dead for Ash Wednesday sermon inspiration. The Lent Madness crew expects this type of theological thinking from me. May be how I got the job.

  4. It's almost unfair to poor Lucy, whose story, while inspiring, cannot compare to being related to Jesus! The Baptist gets major points for speaking truth to power, not an easy thing to do. Lucy gets major points for bucking a system which would have seen her talents gone to waste. But in the end, it's the Baptist by....a head.

  5. I think that this is a tough one. A patron saint of the blind is worth consideration and I can hear John's voice in Strauss' Salome. I am glad that voting for one does not "demote' the other

  6. I've gotta go with the child of my namesake, Elizabeth. St Elizabeth, BTW, is often credited as being the very first Christian. Maybe she needs a spot on next year's bracket....

  7. Had to go with the clear underdog here, Lucy. While John the Baptist was clearly given a monumental task of preparing the way for Jesus, there's just something out Lucy's dedication to God that won my heart. This is definitely another tough one!

  8. Considering my name, it's probably easy to guess who gets my vote today. Although I admit that, like Mr. Thomas, it would be interesting to see what C.B. Penny Nash could produce for a second-round essay on Lucy. But while Lucy may have been heavy (as well as my sister -- give a shout out here to The Hollies!) JtB was, and is, a stalwart who lost his head for the Lord. Pun intended, of course!

  9. I read the bit about girls dressed as Lucy passing out food representative of eyes, looked down at my plate of eggs, sunny side up, and nearly decided I was done eating. Plus Salome is one fantastic opera, so I had to go with John.

    1. Salome really is one fantastic opera. And I get to fulfill a lifelong dream this fall and actually play it (I'm the rehearsal pianist)! So I had to go with John too. Partly in gratitude for that answered prayer - but also because he gives the otherwise quiet season of Advent a serious injection of excitement!

  10. I voted for John the Baptist, who according to the Gosple of Luke was among the first witnesses to the Light. Even while in his mother's womb, he knew his savior was near and at the sound of Mary's voice, he leaped for joy in Elizabeth's womb!

  11. Lucy, except for the eyeballs bit, has fostered a sweet tradition for the Advent season, however, I feel compelled to vote for that wild man, John.

  12. Have to go with JtheB here...after all he's got a great fight song: "On Jordan's bank, the Baptist's cry..."! Here's hoping those who voted for St. Lucy don't cry their eyes out in defeat.

    1. That confirms it for me: my parents called each other Lucy and Charlie Brown. So in honor of my smart, funny, stubborn, independent, and faith-filled mom Mary Ellen, aka Lucy, I vote for she who shall not be moved!

  13. I too voted for Lucy, as I look forward to learning more about the traditions, miracles, etc. attributed to her. John the Baptist... well, not that he wasn't important and all, but I've only ever heard one sermon about St. Lucy. No, it wasn't at a St. John's!

  14. Having lived in Brooklyn and attending a wedding at a wonderfully baroque church near the BQE ib Carroll Gardens, I was fascinated by the statue of Lucy with her eyeballs on a tray...and a perfectly good set in her sockets. After my marriage to a Scandi, I learned of their devotion to lucy and celebration of her special day. Marrying into a Lutheran family pointed to the religious meaning of sharing coffee and homemade pastries. I went with Lucy...I'd rather have cinnamon buns than dried locuts.

  15. I would vote for Lucy over anyone except John the Baptist.

    In school, the sisters told us that Lucy gouged out her eyes so she wouldn't be tempted to pride by seeing her own beauty. I remember thinking "I'm glad I'm not pretty." #raisedbynuns

    Much as I love Lucy, John is irresistible

  16. I had to go with Lucy. Girlfriend DID NOT want to do deed with PaganMan and she held it together long enough to be victorious (altho it cost her).

    What about Big Bad John? Well first, in the illustrated original Greek translation of the NIV, John looks more like a Jewish Grizzly Adams than Boy Band Smiley Man above. And besides, John seems to have been rude.

    A wise man once said, “I hate rude behavior in a man. I won’t tolerate it.”

    Hence my vote for St. Lucia.

  17. This was a hard one. Both martyred, they framed Jesus' ministry, one paving the way, one obeying a principal command to "give up all you have to the poor and follow me." I voted for John because many of his followers became disciples, and in a sense, the first church, igniting a 2000 year tradition.

    1. Ditto! This is certainly a tough match-up. But, these thoughts were also my inspiraton for voting for John---except for the first church part...that hadn't entered my mind, although an excellent idea. Mr. Clemens and I must be in the right, since we both came to such similar conclusions.

  18. In honor of women throughout the world who still suffer because of their inability to own their own power, I voted for Lucy for standing her ground and for the light that her spirit must still share. It's a tough debate, but it's Lucy for me.

    1. I agree with Allison here! Women continue to suffer because of the power establishment and Lucy is a fabulous emblem of winning (though at quite a cost!) over that establishment. John the Baptist is a grumpy guywho ate way too many bugs.