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Saint Cecilia

Saint Cecilia (also known as Cecily and Cicilia) was a distinguished, young Roman patrician who died around 117 A.D. Deeply loving God since early childhood, she wore sackcloth, fasted regularly, and made a vow to God that she would remain ever virgin as his bride. She even invoked angels and virgin saints to guard her virginity. However, her parents insisted that she have a husband; they wed her to Valerian of Trastevere.

Cecilia-musicIn a story written about her life, called The Acts of Cecilia, it says: “While the profane music of her wedding was heard, Cecilia was singing in her heart a hymn of love for Jesus, her true spouse.” This phrase is the reason she became known as the patron saint of music, singers, musicians, composers, musical instrument makers, and poets.

After the wedding, she said to her groom, “I will tell you a secret if you will swear not to reveal it to anyone.” He made the oath, so she told him, “There is an angel who watches me and wards off from me any who would touch me.”

He said, “Dearest, if this be true, show me the angel.”

She replied, “That can only be if you will believe in one God, and be baptized.

He desired this conversion, so she sent him to Pope S. Urban (223-230), who gave him the Sacrament of Baptism.

When he returned from the ceremony, he found Cecilia deep in prayer in her chamber. To Valerian’s delight, he saw an angel with flaming wings praying with her. The angel then placed crowns of roses and lilies on both of their heads. The angel also asked Valerian what favor he would like done for him. He asked for his brother Tibertius’ conversion.
Just then, Tibertius came to visit. He wondered where the fragrance of beautiful flowers was coming from at that season of the year. When they told him about the angel and the crowns, he wanted to be a Christian, too.

Cecilia-angelAt that time, the Romans were killing Christians daily. Valerian and his brother devoted themselves to giving proper burials to the martyrs. Eventually, they were arrested, and when they refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods, they were martyred by the sword. Cecilia buried them at her villa.

Meanwhile, Cecilia continued her ministry of preaching the Gospel. Her evangelization efforts brought about 400 people to conversion, whom she sent to the pope for baptisms. Then she was arrested. The Romans ordered her to to make a sacrifice to their gods. Of course she refused. They tried to kill her by suffocation. They shut her in a fire-filled room for a night and a day, but this did not kill her. When the fires were fueled to a roar, Cecilia did not even perspire.

The executioner was ordered to cut off her head. He tried three times without success. He gave up and left her to bleed to death. She survived for three days. Amazed crowds came to visit her. They collected her blood with napkins and sponges. She preached to them and prayed until she died. Pope Urban and his deacons buried her next to her husband.
Sometime between 817 and 821, Pope Paschal I saw in a dream that the body of Saints Cecilia and Valerian were interred in the cemetery of Saint Celestas. He went looking for them, discovered their graves, and took their bodies to the church of Saint Cecilia in Rome. He founded a monastery in their honor. In 1599, Cecilia’s tomb was opened and her body was found to be incorrupt.


Along the left wall is a great niche where was placed the sarcophagus containing the body of St. Cecilia. It remained there until the year 821, when pope Paschal I had her remains transferred to Trastevere, in the basilica dedicated to the Saint.

ceciliasculpThe Statue is a copy of the famous work by Stefano Maderno (1566-1636), carried out in 1599, when there took place the recognition of her relics. The body was found in the position represented by the sculptor.

He brought out the cut of the sword on her neck and the position of her fingers: three fingers open on the right hand and one on the left. According to tradition, the saint wished to show her faith in the Trinity and in the Unity of God.

The crypt was covered with mosaics and frescoes, which eventually wore away. Of the last ones there remain some figures. On the left wall near the statue there are two pictures in Byzantine style, which date to the end of the 8th C. and the beginning of the 9th. In the small niche below there is the image of Christ “pantocràtor” (omnipotent) holding a Gospel. Above the niche there is the figure of St. Cecilia as an “Orante”. Below, to the right, is the figure of St. Urban I, pope and martyr, united in the martyr’s Passio. On the wall we can see a cross between two lambs and the three martyrs Polycamus, Sebastian and Quirinus.

Cecilia-tombSome inscriptions are preserved in the crypt. The most important one refers to a certain Septimius Fronton of senatorial rank. It is written in Greek and dates back to the end of the 3rd century. It reads:

“I, Septimius Fronton, Pretextatus Licinianus
servant of God, repose here .
I shall have no regret for having lived an honest life.
I will serve you also in heaven ( o Lord)
and will praise your Name (for ever).
I gave back my soul to God at the age of 33 years and 6 months”.