Wooden plaque of St Lucy of Syracuse, Spanish, 17th century.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
The Catholic Church dominated medieval Europe, and Christian teaching often implied that illnes was the result of sin. Prayer became an important part of healing. St Lucy was martyred in 304 AD during the persecution of the Christians by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. She became a patron of eye problems because legend told how she never wished to marry, and when a suitor admired her eyes, she plucked them out in scorn to discourage his advances. Miraculously they grew back again. St Lucy is often depicted holding a pair of eyes on a plate.