Friday, July 22, 2011


St. Cecilia
Born 2nd century A.D.Rome

Died 177 Sicily
Feast November 22
patron saint of musicians

Virgin and martyr, patroness of church music, died at Rome.
Saint Cecilia (Latin: Sancta Caecilia) is the patron saint of musicians and Church music
because as she was dying she sang to God. It is also written that as the musicians played
at her wedding she "sang in her heart to the Lord".
She is one of seven women, excluding the Blessed Virgin, commemorated by name in the Canon
of the Mass. It was long supposed that she was a noble lady of Rome who, with her husband
Valerian, his brother Tiburtius, and a Roman soldier Maximus, suffered martyrdom, c. 230,
under the Emperor Alexander Severus.
The research of Giovanni Battista de Rossi, however, appears to confirm the statement of
Venantius Fortunatus, Bishop of Poitiers (d. 600), that she perished in Sicily under
Emperor Marcus Aurelius between 176 and 180. A church in her honor exists in Rome from
about the 5th century, was rebuilt with much splendor by Pope Paschal I around the year
820, and again by Cardinal Paolo Emilio Sfondrati in 1599. It is situated in Trastevere,
near the Ripa Grande quay, where in earlier days the ghetto was located, and is the titulus
of a Cardinal Priest, currently Carlo Maria Martini.
The martyrdom of Cecilia is said to have followed that of her husband and his brother by
the prefect Turcius Almachius.The officers of the prefect then sought to have Cecilia
killed as well. She arranged to have her home preserved as a church before she was
arrested. At that time, the officials attempted to kill her by smothering her by steam.
However, the attempt failed, and she was to have her head chopped off. But they were
unsuccessful three times, and she would not die until she received the sacrament of Holy
Cecilia survived another three days before succumbing. In the last three days of her life,
she opened her eyes, gazed at her family and friends who crowded around her cell, closed
them, and never opened them again. The people by her cell knew immediately that she was to
become a saint in heaven. When her incorruptible body was found long after her death, it
was found that on one hand she had three fingers outstretched and on the other hand just
one finger, denoting her belief in the trinity.

This saint, so often glorified in the fine arts and in poetry, is one of the most venerated
martyrs of Christian antiquity. The oldest historical account of St. Cecilia is found in
the "Martyrologium Hieronymianum"; from this it is evident that her feast was celebrated in
the Roman Church in the fourth century. Her name occurs under different dates in the
above-mentioned martyrology; its mention under 11 August, the feast of the martyr
Tiburtius, is evidently a later and erroneous addition, due to the fact that this
Tiburtius, who was buried on the Via Labicana, was wrongly identified with Tiburtius, the
brother-in-law of St. Cecilia, mentioned in the Acts of her martyrdom. Perhaps also there
was another Roman martyr of the name of Cecilia buried on the Via Labicana. Under the date
of 16 September Cecilia is mentioned alone, with the topographical note: "Appiâ viâ in
eâdem urbe Româ natale et passio sanctæ Ceciliæ virginis (the text is to be thus
corrected). This is evidently the day of the burial of the holy martyr in the Catacomb of
Callistus. The feast of the saint mentioned under 22 November, on which day it is still
celebrated, was kept in the church in the Trastevere quarter at Rome, dedicated to her. Its
origin, therefore, is to be traced most probably to this church. The early medieval guides
(Itineraria) to the burial-places of Roman martyrs point out her grave on the Via Appia,
next to the crypt of the Roman bishops of the third century (De Rossi, Roma sotterranea, I,
180-181). De Rossi located the burial-place of Cecilia in the Catacomb of Callistus in a
crypt immediately adjoining the crypt or chapel of the popes; an empty niche in one of the
walls contained, probably, at one time the sarcophagus with the bones of the saint. Among
the frescoes of a later time with which the wall of the sepulchre are adorned, the figure
of a richly-dressed woman appears twice and Pope Urban, who was brought personal into close
relation with the saint by the Acts of her martyrdom, is depicted once. The ancient titular
church of Rome, mentioned above was built as early as the fourth century and is still
preserved in the Trastevere. This church was certainly dedicated in the fifth century to
the saint buried on the Via Appia; it is mentioned in the signatures of the Roman Council
of 499 as "titulus sanctae Caeciliae" (Mansi, Coll, Conc. VIII, 236). Like some other
ancient Christian churches of Rome, which are the gifts of the saints whose names they
bear, it may be inferred that the Roman Church owes this temple to the generosity of the
holy martyr herself; in support of this view it is to be noted that the property, under
which the oldest part of the true Catacomb of Callistus is constructed, belonged most
likely, according to De Rossi's researches, to the family of St. Cecilia (Gens Caecilia),
and by donation passed into the possession of the Roman Church. Although her name is not
mentioned in the earliest (fourth century) list of feasts (Depositio martyrum), the fact
that in the "Sacramentarium Leoniam", a collection of masses completed about the end of the
fifth century, are found no less than five different masses in honour of St. Cecilia
testifies to the great veneration in which the saint was at that time held in the Roman
Church ["Sacram. Leon.", ed. Muratori, in "Opera" (Arezzo, 1771), XIII, I, 737, sqq.].
About the middle of the fifth century originated Acts of the martyrdom of St. Cecilia which
have been transmitted in numerous manuscripts; these acts were also translated into Greek.
They were utilized in the prefaces of the above-mentioned masses of the "Sacramentarium
Leonianum". They inform us, that Cecilia, a virgin of a senatorial family and a Christian
from her infancy, was given in marriage by her parents to a noble pagan youth Valerianus.
When, after the celebration of the marriage, the couple had retired to the wedding-chamber,
Cecilia told Valerianus that she was betrothed to an angel who jealously guarded her body;
therefore Valerianus must take care not to violate her virginity. Valerianus wished to see
the angel, whereupon Cecilia sent him to the third milestone on the Via Appia where he
should meet Bishop (Pope) Urbanus. Valerianus obeyed, was baptized by the pope, and
returned a Christian to Cecilia. An angel then appeared to the two and crowned them with
roses and lilies. When Tiburtius, the brother of Valerianus, came to them, he too was won
over to Christianity. As zealous children of the Faith both brothers distributed rich alms
and buried the bodies of the confessors who had died for Christ. The prefect, Turcius
Almachius, condemned them to death; an officer of the prefect, Maximus, appointed to
execute this sentence, was himself converted and suffered martyrdom with the two brothers.
Their remains were buried in one tomb by Cecilia. And now Cecilia herself was sought by the
officers of the prefect. Before she was taken prisoner, she arranged that her house should
be preserved as a place of worship for the Roman Church. After a glorious profession of
faith, she was condemned to be suffocated in the bath of her own house. But as she remained
unhurt in the overheated room, the prefect had her decapitated in that place. The
executioner let his sword fall three times without separating the head from the trunk, and
fled, leaving the virgin bathed in her own blood. She lived three days, made dispositions
in favour of the poor, and provided that after her death her house should be dedicated as a
church. Urbanus buried her among the bishops and the confessors, i.e. in the Catacomb of
In this shape the whole story has no historical value; it is a pious romance, like so many
others compiled in the fifth and sixth century. The existence of the aforesaid martyrs,
however, is a historical fact. The relation between St. Cecilia and Valerianus, Tiburtius,
and Maximus, mentioned in the Acts, has perhaps some historical foundation. These three
saints were buried in the Catacomb of Praetextatus on the Via Appia, where their tombs are
mentioned in the ancient pilgrim Itineraria. In the "Martyrologium Hieronymianum" their
feast is set down under 14 April with the note: "Romae via Appia in cimiterio Prætextati";
and the octave under 21 April, with the comment: "Rome in cimiterio Calesti via Appia". In
the opinion of Duchesne the octave was celebrated in the Catacomb of Callistus, because St.
Cecilia was buried there. If, therefore, this second notice in the martyrology is older
than the aforesaid Acts, and the latter did not give rise to this second feast, it follows
that before the Acts were written this group of saints in Rome was brought into relation
with St. Cecilia. The time when Cecilia suffered martyrdom is not known. From the mention
of Urbanus nothing can be concluded as to the time of composition of the Acts; the author
without any authority, simply introduced the confessor of this name (buried in the Catacomb
of Praetextatus) on account of the nearness of his tomb to those of the other martyrs and
identified him with the pope of the same name. The author of the "Liber Pontificalis" used
the Acts for his notice of Urbanus. The Acts offer no other indication of the time of the
martyrdom. Venantius Fortunatus (Miscellanea, 1, 20; 8,6) and Ado (Martyrology, 22
November) place the death of the saint in the reign of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus (about
177), and De Rossi tried to prove this view as historically the surest one. In other
Western sources of the early Middle Ages and in the Greek "Synaxaria" this martyrdom is
placed in the persecution of Diocletian. P.A. Kirsch tried to locate it in the time of
Alexander Severus (229-230); Aubé, in the persecution of Decius (249-250); Kellner, in that
of Julian the Apostate (362). None of these opinion is sufficiently established, as neither
the Acts nor the other sources offer the requisite chronological evidence. The only sure
time indication is the position of the tomb in the Catacomb of Callistus, in the immediate
proximity of the very ancient crypt of the popes, in which Urbanus probably, and surely
Pontianus and Anterus were buried. The earliest part of this catacomb dates at all events
from the end of the second century; from that time, therefore, to the middle of the third
century is the period left open for the martyrdom of St. Cecilia.
Her church in the Trastevere quarter of Rome was rebuilt by Paschal I (817-824), on which
occasion the pope wished to transfer thither her relics; at first, however, he could not
find them and believed that they had been stolen by the Lombards. In a vision he saw St.
Cecilia, who exhorted him to continue his search, as he had already been very near to her,
i.e. near her grave. He therefore renewed his quest; and soon the body of the martyr,
draped in costly stuffs of gold brocade and with the cloths soaked in her blood at her
feet, was actually found in the Catacomb of Prætextatus. They may have been transported
thither from the Catacomb of Callistus to save them from earlier depredations of the
Lombards in the vicinity of Rome. The relics of St. Cecilia with those of Valerianus,
Tiburtius, and Maximus, also those of Popes Urbanus and Lucius, were taken up by Pope
Paschal, and reburied under the high altar of St. Cecilia in Trastevere. The monks of a
convent founded in the neighbourhood by the same pope were charged with the duty of singing
the daily Office in this basilica. From this time the veneration of the holy martyr
continued to spread, and numerous churches were dedicated to her. During the restoration of
the church in the year 1599 Cardinal Sfondrato had the high altar examined and found under
it the sarcophagi, with the relics of the saints, that Pope Paschal had transported
thither. Recent excavations beneath the church, executed at the instigation and expense of
Cardinal Rampolla, disclosed remains of Roman buildings, which have remained accessible. A
richly adorned underground chapel was built beneath the middle aisle, and in it a latticed
window, opening over the altar, allows a view of the receptacles in which the bones of the
saints repose. In a side chapel of the church there have long been shown the remains of the
bath in which, according to the Acts, Cecilia was put to death.
The oldest representations of St. Cecilia show her in the attitude usual for martyrs in the
Christian art of the earlier centuries, either with the crown of martyrdom in her hand
(e.g. at S. Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, in a sixth-century mosaic) or in the attitude of
prayer, as an Orans (e.g. the two sixth and seventh-century pictures in her crypt). In the
apse of her church in Trastevere is still preserved the mosaic made under Pope Paschal,
wherein she is represented in rich garments as patroness of the pope. Medieval pictures of
the saint are very frequent; since the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries she is given the
organ as an attribute, or is represented as playing on the organ, evidently to express what
was often attributed to her in panegyrics and poems based on the Acts, viz., that while the
musicians played at her nuptials she sang in her heart to God only ("cantantibus organis
illa in corde suo soi domino decantabat"); possibly the cantantibus organis was erroneously
interpreted of Cecilia herself as the organist. In this way the saint was brought into
closer relation with music. When the Academy of Music was founded at Rome (1584) she was
made patroness of the institute, whereupon her veneration as patroness of church music in
general became still more universal; today Cecilian societies (musical associations) exist
everywhere. The organ is now her ordinary attribute; with it Cecilia was represented by
Raphael in a famous picture preserved at Bologna. In another magnificent masterpiece, the
marble statute beneath the high altar of the above-mentioned church of St. Cecilia at Rome,
Carlo Maderna represented her lying prostrate, just as she had received the death-blow from
the executioner's hand. Her feast is celebrated in the Latin and the Greek Church on 22
November. In the "Martyrologium Hieronymainum" are commemorated other martyrs of this name,
but of none of them is there any exact historical information. One suffered martyrdom in
Carthage with Dativus in 304

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