A stunning Swedish tradition comes to York Minster for the first time on the evening of 19 December, with a service to mark the feast of Saint Lucy – Sankta Lucia – forming part of the cathedral’s Advent programme.
The atmospheric service sees York Minster being lit by candles, with a candlelit procession led by a young girl wearing a crown of candles to represent St Lucy, a young Sicilian girl who died a martyr’s death in the early fourth century.
The service is already an established feature in the December calendar of several other notable churches across the UK, including St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Cathedral and the Swedish Church in London.
According to the story of Saint Lucy contained in the Guilte Legende, a compendium of saints’ biographies from the Middle Ages, Lucy became a devout Christian after being visited by an angel. When she was later threatened to renounce her faith or face death, her faith gave her the strength to resist the power of 1,000 men and 50 oxen who tried to drag her away.
The modern service reflects Sankta Lucia as the bringer of light, and is one of the most significant services in the Swedish ecclesiastical calendar. The service begins with the Lucia candlelit procession, in which those processing sing traditional Swedish carols and songs. The singers dress in white gowns carry candles, bringing light in the darkness of winter.
“The Sankta Lucia service is, in many ways, the Swedish equivalent of our Advent Procession, and shares many similarities for those attending, who will see the cathedral gradually lit by candlelight as the service progresses,” comments The Reverend Canon Peter Moger, Precentor of York Minster. “We’re very pleased to be working with the York Anglo-Scandinavian Society for this special service, which is celebrated in churches, schools and workplaces throughout Scandinavia every year.”
“The York Anglo Scandinavian Society has hosted Swedish Sankta Lucia celebrations for several years in York’s Bedern Hall but this is the first time it is being held at York Minster,” a spokesperson for the York Anglo-Scandinavian Society explained. “We hope that everyone who comes along will enjoy and share in what we consider the magic of Lucia; a tradition that symbolises bringing light to the dark, cold winter time”.