Virgin, Martyr and Patroness of Music and Musicians
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Cecilia. Virgin and Martyr in the Cemitery of Callistus. “The virgin Cecilia who always carried the gospel of Christ on her breast,”
Tradition has it that Cecilia, a noble Roman girl, was martyred around the year AD 230, during the reign of Alexander Severus and the papacy of Urban I. Her cult is very ancient: the Basilica named after her in Rome’s Trastevere quarter, was first erected before the Edict of Constantine (AD 313) and the feast of her memory was celebrated in 545.
The tale of her martyrdom is contained in the Passio Sanctae Caeciliae, a more literary than historical text, characterized by a strong tendency toward the legendary. According to the Passio, Cecilia was betrothed to the patrician, Valerian. On their wedding day, she revealed that she had converted to Christianity and vowed perpetual virginity. Valerian then agreed to be catechized and baptized secretly by Pope Urban I. Shortly afterwards, Valerian’s brother Tiburtius embraced the Christian faith. The two brothers were soon arrested by order of the Prefect, Turcius Almachius. After being tortured, they were decapitated with Maximus, the officer who had the task of bringing them to jail, and who, along the way, had himself converted.
Almachius then decides to kill Cecilia but, fearing the repercussions of a public execution given the popularity of the young Christian, after submitting her to summary judgment, orders that she return to her home to be locked in the steam room (which was to be brought to very high temperature), thus staging a death by asphyxiation. After one day and one night, the guards find Cecilia miraculously alive, wrapped in a celestial dew. Almachius then ordered her decapitation, but despite the three violent blows to the neck, the executioner could not sever Cecilia’s head. Cecilia died after three days of agony, during which she gave all her belongings to the poor, her home to the Church – and, no longer able to speak – continues to profess her faith in the Triune God, by using her fingers: raising the thumb, forefinger, and middle finger of her right hand (to indicate three Divine Persons) and the index of her left hand (to indicate the one Divine Nature).
Starting in the second half of the 14th century, in different parts of Europe, Cecilian iconography began to proliferate and enrich itself with musical elements.
Today let’s remember St. Cecilia, her martyrdom in the name of our lord and her absolute faith until death.
Heaven is our Goal.