|Saint Cecilia, Virgin and
Martyr - late 2nd or 3rd Century
Ironically, St. Cecilia is the patron saint of music and musicians because of the disdain she felt for the music played at her wedding celebration: "While the musical instruments sounded, she sang in her heart to the Lord alone, saying, 'Let my heart and my body be undefiled, O Lord, that I may not be confounded'" (Ryan 318).
Raised a Christian in a noble Roman household, St. Cecilia has no desire for the wedding that has been arranged for her. On the night of the nuptials she explains her faith to her bridegroom Valerian, saying that an angel has crowns for them both if he will respect her virginity and become a Christian. Valerian then goes to Pope Urban for baptism and subsequently brings his brother into the faith.
The story continues with the martyrdom of the brothers, which is delayed by the conversion of the executioner Maximus and his men. Then the judge Almachius orders that Cecilia be scalded to death in her bath. When this fails, he orders her beheaded. This is only partly successful, so she lives three more days, time enough to preach the faith, convert multitudes, and give her goods to the poor.
The story is told in a set of eight panels in the 14th-century St. Cecilia Altarpiece in Florence. A 17th-century chapel dedicated to St. Cecilia in Rome also has frescoes tracing some of the episodes: the crowns, the trial, the distribution of goods to the poor, and her death.
Portraits of St. Cecilia appear very early without attributes (example: mosaic from the early 6th century). In the 14th-century altarpiece mentioned above her only attributes are a book and a palm branch. But trom the15th century onward the images favor musical instruments as her attribute – especially organs (example). Under the influence of this iconography, one 15th-century Life that usually follows the Golden Legend faithfully changes Voragine's "While the musical instruments sounded" to "while the organs sang."1 By the 17th century the saint is actually playing the organ in one Spanish portrait and in Dryden's "Song for St. Cecilia's Day."2 (Another 17th century image has her playing a violoncello.)
In Raphael's 1514 painting at left her preference for heavenly song is expressed in the broken state of the instruments, the angels above singing a capella, and her own heavenward glance. That glance becomes a common feature in Renaissance portraits (example) and is reprised in the nineteenth century, when St. Cecilia is adopted as a model of refined womanhood (example).
In the 9th century Pope Paschal I had Cecilia's remains unearthed from the Catacombs of St. Calixtus and reported that her body was incorrupt and that her hands signaled the Trinity, with one extending three fingers and the other a single finger. He had the body re-interred in the church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, where a 12th or 13th century fresco memorializes the discovery of the incorrupt body. Then in 1599 her tomb was re-opened by Paolo Cardinal Sfodrati, who also reported that the body was intact and incorrupt. He commissioned Stefano Maderno to make a sculpture of the body, and the sculpture is now on display at the east end of the nave of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere.
Feast day: November 22
At left, Raphael, The Ecstasy of St. Cecilia
Other narrative images:
Panel with Cecilia and Valerian receiving crownsOther portraits:
In Saraceni's ParadiseHagiography: