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. Lucy! Lucy! Lucy! You had me at "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." Nice to know I'm not overweight, I'm filled with the Holy Spirit.

  2. While I'm not a huge fan of virginity, I can't help but love Lucy! Strong, determined, and the underdog. She gets my vote.

  3. Penny Nash works at my church! But I had to go with John. My bracket depends on it. And you can't really do anything more Christian than baptising Jesus Christ.

  4. Lucy...Lucia...Light...a wreath of lighted candles on the oldest daughter's head...hmmm. It gives new meaning to "light from above." Eyeball plucking, brothel, virginity, forced: sometimes the saints' stories seem to push their piety aside and the stories become the focus. But not John the Baptizer! We look at him and see Elijah (recall), his dear old mother, his famous cousin, camel's hair and honey, and baptism...ok, and an unfortunate end by a headstrong girl. Quick---think of John the Baptizer...Yes--you see him with Jesus in a river--- right? Quick---think of Lucy...Yes--you see Olduvai, see a young girl in a white dress with her hair on fire unable to put it out quickly because she has all this bread and coffee in her hands. John gets the vote.

  5. Here is John Donne poem about Lucy.. take that John the Baptist 🙂

    Tis the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
    Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
    The sun is spent, and now his flasks
    Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
    The world's whole sap is sunk;
    The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
    Whither, as to the bed's feet, life is shrunk,
    Dead and interr'd; yet all these seem to laugh,
    Compar'd with me, who am their epitaph.

    Study me then, you who shall lovers be
    At the next world, that is, at the next spring;
    For I am every dead thing,
    In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
    For his art did express
    A quintessence even from nothingness,
    From dull privations, and lean emptiness;
    He ruin'd me, and I am re-begot
    Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not.

    All others, from all things, draw all that's good,
    Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;
    I, by Love's limbec, am the grave
    Of all that's nothing. Oft a flood
    Have we two wept, and so
    Drown'd the whole world, us two; oft did we grow
    To be two chaoses, when we did show
    Care to aught else; and often absences
    Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

    But I am by her death (which word wrongs her)
    Of the first nothing the elixir grown;
    Were I a man, that I were one
    I needs must know; I should prefer,
    If I were any beast,
    Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest,
    And love; all, all some properties invest;
    If I an ordinary nothing were,
    As shadow, a light and body must be here.

    But I am none; nor will my sun renew.
    You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
    At this time to the Goat is run
    To fetch new lust, and give it you,
    Enjoy your summer all;
    Since she enjoys her long night's festival,
    Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
    This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
    Both the year's, and the day's deep midnight is.

  6. Lucy's got a good story, but one of my favorite attributes about John comes from an Advent sermon I heard about him being the most uncommercializable figure in the NT, and that's a winner as far as I'm concerned. The profile pics in the bios prove it -- even carrying her eyes in her hand, Lucy looks great in a Glamour Shot, whereas JtheB shouldn't even try.

  7. Lucy's Feast Day is one of the shortest days of the year, while John's is one of the longest! Obviously he is more worthy of moving on to the next round!

  8. On TUESDAY the 12th my husband received a cornea
    transplant Guess where my vote went
    Thankyou for reminding me of St LUCIA

  9. had to go with Lucy, as great as John was he was selected by God for his ministry, Lucy selected her's. She saw wealth as a burden when so many around her went hungry. God bless Lucy.

    1. Thank you, hg. I couldn't put my finger on why I should give my vote to a struggling teenage girl over someone who was doing God-inspired somersaults in utero, but you nailed it.

  10. John the Baptist! I really wish all those "hooting and hollering" TV ministers would learn a little bit out John's preaching. John the B would give those Bible pushers a run for their money!

  11. At first I was eyeing St. John the Baptist, but I can see now that Lucy is a woman with a good head on her shoulders.

  12. While John the Baptist is such a momentous figure in Biblical history, and certainly is deserving of consideration, my vote is for Lucy, a woman of deep commitment and personal virtue. While legends and tradition possibly add details about her, the bringing of Light, (I am Scandinavian so light is important to me during the winter's darkness until spring returns.) is of great importance during this Lent because one of my disciplines is seeking what the light shows both within me to change and to celebrate about God's love working in my faith and service to others.

  13. Nice that Lucy was good to the poor, nice that she inspired a fun tradition complete with ghoulish foods. But as a major saint John the B's got this hands down. Or should that be heads down? 🙂

  14. Lucy is my girl! Those of us with weight issues need to stick together.
    John the Baptist can stick with his honey and locust. I think being filled with the Holy Spirit tips the scales. lol

  15. I voted for John the Baptist. I like that he spoke truth to power, and that he suffered from doubts.

  16. My grandmother and great-grandmother were Lucys. I even got to be St. Lucia once with a wreath of candles on my head [fearfully!]. She was a brave girl to lose her life for her faith. I voted for Lucy.

  17. Much as I love Lucy and the traditions associated with her commemoration in No. Europe, I'm going with John the Baptist, in honor of the fresco at Saint Mary's, Beaver Creek, NC -- apparently a crack in the plaster appeared overnight...along his neckline!

    BTW, if you've never seen the frescos at Beaver Creek (and Glendale Springs), the one opposite JtB depicting Mary, Great with Child is fairly astonishing...Go John, Advent saint!

  18. The most important question today and perhaps for the rest of your life (or at least until this year's LM is over) is HWJV? Of course Jesus would vote for his cousin and the one who baptized him. Of course we want to follow his example. So of course a vote for JTB is a vote for JC! (If you need to change your vote now, check with the SEC.)

  19. Remembering Evelyn Underhill's comment to CS Lewis, "your concept of God would be improved by just a touch of wildness," my vote goes to John.

  20. While living in Norway, I found the most captivating part of Advent to be when the young girls dressed in white with the candles circulated throughout town, even in businesses and offices, singing the Santa Lucia carol. Inserting some simple spirituality into the workday was refreshing!!!! Gotta go with Lucy.

  21. Have to go with Lucy. Just couldn't bring myself to vote for someone who ate bugs, with or without honey.

  22. For all that I applaud Lucy's puffy retreat from icky defilement and her bravery in face of torment, John's headlong (oh yes I did) run into a passionate life of preaching, cage-rattling, and danger-courting wins him my vote. John's humility also moves me. And I think of his mother, who brought him into the world in laughter, watching her so-serious son grow to be the baptizer of Jesus. A tough choice, but for me, John's the one.

  23. "Sometimes Lucy is depicted as holding a platter with a pair of eyes upon it."

    Just like the Pale Man in "Pan's Labyrinth." Vote for Lucy!

  24. I voted for Lucy. As a long-time catechist and Vacation Bible School teacher, I believe we need to raise awareness of the contributions of women of faith. Besides, I voted for a man yesterday.