© 2019 St. Martha's Guild, St. John Cantius Church, Chicago, IL

Saint Lucy

Meet Saint Lucy

This is an interesting reliquary called a simulacrum, a tradition in Europe where a relic is encased in a life-sized wax depiction of the saint. There was something about the presentation of a life-like form that helps to humanize the saint and bring his or her story to life in a tangible way. The simulacrum would be placed in a glass case in the church as a focal point for the faithful who were seeking that saint’s intercession.

 

This Saint Lucy came to us in pretty bad shape, but she was so lovely that not restoring her was unthinkable. The Saint Martha’s Guild came into the picture after her restoration was in the works. Lucy dear just kind of showed up on our table in a rather interesting condition. Eyebrows were raised.

It’s not every day that you find a headless body on your sewing table. Her form is really beautiful, even with the wax parts missing. She has kneecaps, calf muscles. It’s kind of disconcerting. Should we cover her up when the Latin class is scheduled? Leave some kind of note of explanation? She reeks of mothballs. Her body is really, really old, stuffed with horsehair and mysterious fibers, and wrapped with very stiff linen that is riddled with holes.

 

Lucy dates to 1740. That would explain it.

 

1740.

 

Why were we even touching her?!
 

For us the next question was, “What does the rest of her look like?”

No offense to Saint Philomena’s simulacrum builders but....well, um...we were worried.

And Father wasn’t a whole lot of help, “She looks like she’s in agony.”

Like good agony or ugly agony? So then we got the before pictures from Broken Art, our intrepid restoration maestros. She looked pretty nasty, but still pretty wonderful. Definitely not ugly.

Broken Art began restoring the wax parts. We got a call from them; what was with the green sandals? This bright green color emerged when they cleaned off the layers of grime.

Puzzling. Our consensus was that maybe Saint Lucy couldn’t find the shoes that matched her outfit that day. Even so, we couldn’t leave them that way, because anyone looking at her final restoration would only see the shoes. We sent some photos of her fuchsia and gold embroidered clothing over to Broken Art and they created a fabulous alternative to the green (thank you so very much).

And about that fuchsia silk and gold embroidery; Lucy’s outfit is amazing. The embroidery wasn’t executed with the greatest skill, but they sure made up for that in sheer volume. The clothing has been patched and reworked in many places. The silk has bleached out and eroded badly on one side - sun damage?

Our task was to correct her under sleeves and under skirt. Someone had made the unfortunate decision to replace the tattered underskirt and sleeves with white polyester fabric adorned with rick rack trim. Interesting. Fr. P found a lovely piece of silk damask that had seen better days. He told us resist the urge to have it cleaned, because that would remove the ‘patina’ that would help it fit with the rest of Lucy. We sewed sleeves and a skirt. Then we adopted portions of the embroidery design from Lucy’s dress and reworked them on the hem and sleeve edges using metal threads from a stash of antique spools that Fr. had given to us.

Lucy’s belt was strange, to say the least. There was a load of tacky, multi-colored plastic ‘gems’ and fake ‘pearls’ that had been added to the sides of the belt. The center buckle was actually very nice. It was missing one of the purple marquise stones so we had to order a replacement. Eva carefully removed the ugliness, undoing the stitching on the metal braided strips that comprised the bands for the belt and redid them. We did sprinkle a few Swarovoski crystals on her bodice and over skirt.

Then it was a matter of giving her a dignified set of cushions. The original thought for the cover and pillow was to make them red, but that clashed terribly with her fuchsia clothing so we went for a plan B. Michele went to work making this perfect bolster pillow. We had a few pieces of  beautiful and somewhat tattered purple velvet from a chasuble made in the 1920s. That color worked well with her fuchsia clothing. Our instinctive hesitation to pitch it months ago was vindicated. I will probably never throw out anything old again. In a box of miscellaneous fringes and trim was a pair of really interesting tassels. I thought they would be unusable for anything, because they were so oxidized. They were, however, perfect for Lucy’s pillow. Fran, Vicki, Michele and Juanita worked on the large purple mattress cover. Again, some lengths of tattered galloon worked really well for this.

Saint Lucy was finished a week or so before her feast day. We had time to look things over, fix her hair, and get a palm for her to hold. We speculated that perhaps that was how her finger got broken originally. The fingers on her hand are bent as if they were meant to hold something. Perhaps someone wasn’t careful enough when they arranged whatever she was holding. That must have been a bad moment. It made it rather stressful to insert a branch but it seemed fitting that she was holding one.

The lovely Juanita and I fussed over her final touches. Lucy’s barren eyelids kept bugging us. It looked like maybe she had a bad encounter with her oven. Some false eyelashes from CVS remedied that. We had to trim them down a bunch so she didn’t look like a tart.

Then came the really epic moment when tiny Juanita hoisted Lucy and carted her out the door, through the hallway, down the stairs, across the alley, up the elevator and into the church to install her in the case. Lucy is surprisingly light. I think she looks like she’s doing one of those dramatic eye rolls in this photo. Probably about one of our bad jokes. This was perhaps one of the odder sights ever captured on the premises.

I think this will go down as one of our favorite projects.

 

 

From the Saint John Cantius post about her installation on December 13, 2018:

 

December 13th is the Feast of St. Lucy, whose name means “Light.”

 

Today, a first class relic and wax figure of St. Lucy, after a long and loving restoration, was returned to our collection and enshrined in our church.

 

The wax image, or ‘simulacrum’ of St. Lucy dates back to around 1740 A.D.

 

St. Lucy is depicted in the moment of her death. Her body is adorned with a silk tunic with gold embroidery. A large first class relic is at her feet. The little saint reclines in a glass casket.

 

St. Lucy was martyred at Syracuse in the persecution of Diocletian about the year 304 A.D.

 

“I am the lowly servant of the Lord, who wished only to offer everything to the living God. Now, since there is nothing left to be offered, I give myself to him.”


—St. Lucy

 

The ‘Legenda Aurea’ recounts that she was denounced as a Christian by a rejected suitor. After refusing to apostatize, she was condemned to a brothel, but a mysterious force prevented the persecutors from moving her from the tribunal.

 

After an unsuccessful attempt had been made to burn St. Lucy to death, her neck was pierced with a dagger. Some legends say that her eyes were removed and later miraculously restored.

 

The wound to St. Lucy's throat was fatal, yet she never moved. She waited until a priest came and brought the Blessed Sacrament. As soon as she had received Communion she gave up her soul to God, thanking and praising Him for all His goodness.

Saint Lucy, Pray for Us.