CECILIA, SAINT Biography - Religious Figures & Icons


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St. Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr, was killed in Rome in A.D. 230. The Church of St.       
Cecilia in Trastevere is reputedly built on the site of the e house in which she         
lived. The original church was constructed in the fourth century; her remains           
were placed there in the ninth century and the church was rebuilt in 1599. Her           
tomb is under the high altar. The sculptor Stefano Maderno examined her                 
perfectly preserved remains and said, "I have in this marble expressed for thee         
the same saint in the very same posture and body."                                       
By far the best account of her life in English is to be found in The Second Nun's       
Tale of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. It is a dramatic story. The young Roman maid         
was brought up from the cradle in the faith of Christ and His Gospel. She prayed         
for her virginity. On the night of her wedding to Valerian she confessed that           
she had a guardian angel who would slay Valerian if he touched her either in             
love or lust. The naturally somewhat suspicious bridegroom demanded to see the           
angel. Cecilia told him that he must first be baptised by an old man named Urban,       
later to become Pope Urban 1. Valerian's brother, Tiburce, was also baptised.           
Valerian was then visited by the angel. Subsequently the brothers were arrested         
and questioned by the prefect, Almachius. When they refused to bow to Jove they         
were beheaded.                                                                           
Cecilia refused to abjure her Christianity and was ordered to be burnt to ashes         
in a bath of flame. She sat in the bath for a day and a night without even               
sweating. Finally an executioner delivered three strokes to her neck. Her wounds         
were bound up and she continued to preach and pray for three more days. Urban           
took her body and buried it at night.                                                   
Contrary to general belief, Cecilia did not invent the organ; there were                 
certainly small hydraulic organs in existence in Egypt some two and a half               
centuries before the birth of Christ. The mistake seems to have arisen from a           
misinterpretation of a sentence in her Acts: "Cantantibus organis in corde suo           
soli Domino decantabat."                                                                 
While musical instruments were playing she was singing in her heart to God alone.       
The Latin "organum" also refers to the organ of speech and singing.                     
St Cecilia's memory has been kept alive by poets, writers, painters and                 
musicians. The first record of a music festival in her honour was held at Evreux         
in Normandy in 1570. When the Academy of Music was founded in Rome in 1584,             
Cecilia was adopted as the patron of Church Music and the 22nd of November was           
chosen as the date for her Patronal Festival.