|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).
A Christian in a pagan household, St. Cecilia did not want to be wed. That night, she explained her faith to her bridegroom Valerian, saying that an angel had crowns for them both if he would convert. Though dubious, Valerian looked into it, consulted with Pope Urban, converted, and even brought his brother into the fold. The story continues with the martyrdom of the brothers and then the trial and passion of St. Cecilia herself. The judge ordered her burned in her bath. When this failed, he ordered her decapitated. This was only partly successful, so she lived three more days, time enough to preach the faith, convert multitudes, and give her goods to the poor.
A chapel dedicated to St. Cecilia in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome has frescoes by Domenichino that trace these events: the crowns, the trial, the distribution of goods to the poor, and her death.
From the late 14th century onward portraits of the saint feature musical instruments such as organs, harps or viols (example). 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 (see Domenichino and Capodimonte) 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 St. 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
Narrative altarpiece from the early 14th centuryAmong other saints:
6th-century apse mosaic in CroatiaHagiography and Literature:
Golden Legend #169: html or pdf
Chaucer, The Second Nun's Tale (cached)
Dryden, A Song for St. Cecilia's Day (cached)