This evening, we celebrated the Swedish festival of Sancta Lucia in a packed Cathedral, the first time that we have been host to the Swedish Lutheran community in London. The feast of Saint Lucy is rooted deep in the Scandinavian consciousness - one would like to think it a relic of Catholic trading links and their medieval past, but it seems to be relatively recent; within the last 200 years, the Hymn to St Lucy (translated from the Neapolitan song 'Sancta Lucia') has become popularised in Sweden. However, the Swedish ambassador, HE Mr Staffan Carlsson (below) made the point that this feast does unite Sweden's Catholic history with its Lutheran present.
The Olaus Petri Choir from Orebro was flown in to sing - an impressive group of talented young male and female choristers, which has gained a national repuitation in Sweden for its music. The highlight of the ceremony called for the Cathedral lights to be dimmed, as the young choir, robed in white and carrying candles in the vast darkness of the nave, processed from the back of the Cathedral to the sanctuary. At their head was the young girl chosen to play Lucy - her head wreathed in a crown bearing five candles (St Lucy is the patron saint of eyesight, and thence, of light).
It was a memorable and beautiful sight, and something previously utterly unknown to us. To the 2,000 Swedes in the Cathedral, however, it was clearly a most important event that linked them to their home and their loved ones, and their own childhood Christmases.
I wondered if the five-candled crown related to the headress of the Bridgettine Sisters, founded by St Bridget of Sweden, and neighbours of ours at the English College in Rome. Here is the redoubtable Mother Tecla wearing her headress:
Sankta Lucia was a truly beautiful service, showing that the cult of St Lucy transcends cultures and denominations, and enables us to shine forth together, Catholic and Lutheran, with the light of the gospel. Jul, Jul, Stralande Jul!