Lives of the Saints from the Month
Nicholas of Myra
Nicholas was the fourth-century bishop of Myra, a city in Lycia, a province of Asia Minor, modern Turkey. He was an enormously popular saint in both East and West. Many of the stories that grew up around his memory were about his love and concern for children, how he fed the hungry,, healed the sick, and cared for the oppressed. Perhaps the best-known story about Nicholas concerns his charity toward a poor man who was unable to provide dowries for his three daughters of marriageable age. Rather than see them forced into prostitution, Nicholas secretly dropped a bag of gold through the poor man’s window on three separate occasions, to enable each daughter in turn to get married. Over the centuries, this particular legend evolved into the custom of gift-giving on the saint’s feast. In the English-speaking countries, Saint Nicholas became, by a twist of the tongue, Santa Claus – though the round, red-cheeked, red coated fellow is the invention of the early 20th century by a certain fizzy drinks company! The real St Nicholas is venerated particularly as the patron saint of sailors and children and of Russia.
Lucy of Syracuse
The single fact survives that a disappointed suitor accused Lucy of being a Christian, and she was executed in Syracuse, Sicily, in the year 304. At the time she lived, the emperor was trying to resestablish the cult and worship of the Roman gods including that of the emperor himself. According to tradition, Lucy was born of rich and noble parents about the year 283, though her father died leaving her and her mother without a guardian to protect them. Her mother, worried about her daughter, and not knowing that Lucy had consecrated her life to Christ, arranged a marriage for her with a dowry. Her legend tells that she gave away her goods to the poor and her angry fiancé betrayed her to the authorities.
While most of what we know is legend, it is also true that her name is mentioned in the First Eucharistic Prayer, geographical places are named after her, a popular song has her name as its title, and down through the centuries many thousands of little girls have been proud of the name Lucy. Her name in Latin means light, and she became associated with the Light of the World, the light who would bring light to the nations.
Eglantyne, studied at Oxford and took a job as a teacher. While she decided teaching was not for her, she was passionately concerned about the plight of children.
In her twenties, and with the death of her brother, she began to engage with her Christian faith more seriously. She was increasingly attracted to Christian mysticism, and around this time had a vision of Jesus – she became strengthened by the assurance that “He has chosen us, not we him” from the Gospel of John 15.16; when faced with a challenge, she would ask, “What would Jesus do?”
In 1913, her brother-in-law encouraged her to visit Macedonia where she saw first hand the impact of war on children; working with her sister she managed to get permission to import newspapers from Germany and Austra-Hungary and published images and information about the suffering of children behind the blockades, “Our blockade has caused this – millions of children are starving to death. The child must be the first to receive relief in times of distress." She was arrested for her protest, though the judge was so impressed he paid her fine!
She founded the Save the Children organisation at the end of the First World War to relieve the effects of famine in Austria-Hungary and Germany. Needing to raise funds, and having been ignored by the Archbishop of Canterbury, she went to the pope. Pope Benedict, already aware of her campaigning, met with her, donated £25,000 from the Vatican and issued an encyclical in which he asked Catholic churches around the world to collect for Save the Children on Holy Innocents Day, 28 December. A astonishing amount of money was raised and the other churches fell into line. The Save the Children fund celebrated it’s centenary in 2019.
This was not enough, so the story goes, she was walking a mountain trail outside Geneva, when she suddenly sat down on the grass and began to write a declaration of children’s rights. She promoted this through the fledgling League of Nations in 1924, and it forms the basis of United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which, ratified by all but two countries around the world, is the most universally accepted human- rights instrument in history.
Eglantyne was plagued by ill health, having a number of operations over the years, she died on 17 December 1928 in Geneva.