Saint Cecilia was a Roman noblewoman of the II century A.D., converted to Christianism and considered the Holy Patroness of Musicians and Singers.
For this reason, the main hall of the famous Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome, designed by the well known architect Renzo Piano, takes its name from her, as well as the Conservatory of Music Saint Cecilia.
Even Geoffrey Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales writes about the origin of the name Cecilia. In The Second Nun’s Tale, Chaucer explains the story of a young virgin maiden named Cecilia who, thanks to her faith in God, became Saint.
What is her story?
Why is she considered the Catholic Saint for Music?
Painting depicting St. Cecilia, Catholic Saint of Music.
The story of Saint Cecilia
Born in a noble and notable Roman family, the story says that on her wedding day with the pagan nobleman Valerian, some organs in her house were ringing out, while she was singing to God in her heart.
Since that anecdote, she became the Patroness of music and musicians. When she told her future husband about her vow of chastity to Christ, Valerian decided to become a Christian and received Baptism by Pope Urban I, during their wedding night.
When he came back home, Valerian saw Cecilia praying with a young figure that looked like a guardian angel. In order to reveal his true nature, the angel made two crowns of flowers appear and put them on the head of the spouses.
Sure of what was in front of him and extremely secure of his recent conversion to Christianity, Valerian prayed so that his brother Tiburtius could receive his same grace too.
The two brothers together used to bury the bodies of Christians they met along their way: practice which the prefect Almachius strongly forbade at that time.
Once the two brothers were captured and tortured, Valerian and Tiburtius, after they persuaded the Roman soldier Maximus to convert to Christianity, were beheaded for breaking the law.
Cecilia prayed upon the graves of the three men and for her belief she was condemned to death for decapitation by the prefect Almachius.
After being hit three times, the story says that Saint Cecilia, instead of dying immediately, sang to the Lord and stood in agony for three more days.
Pope Urban I, who converted her and represented her spiritual guide during her life, decided to bury her with dignity in the Catacombs of Saint Callixtus, among the graves of the bishops, and turned her house into a church, as she desired.
In 821 A.D. her remains were moved to the Saint Cecilia in Trastevere Basilica.
In 1599, during some exceptional refurbishments due to the imminent Jubilee of 1600, the restorers found a sarcophagus with her incorrupt body inside, surrounded by a scent of lilies and roses.
The Patroness of Musicians
The attribute of Saint of Music seems to be due to a piece of the Passio.
As the musicians played at her wedding, she sang in her heart to the Lord, saying:
«Lord, please keep my heart and body pure to free me from disgrace».
Thanks to this piece, she became the Catholic Saint of Music.
Another reason why she is considered the Saint Protector of musicians is linked to her death: during the next three days after her execution, she preached to the crowds who came to see her and sang hymns of praise to God.
For this reason, in the famous painting The Ecstasy of Saint Cecilia by Raphael, the young martyr is represented with an organ between her hands and many different music instruments at her feet.
The Ecstasy of St. Cecilia by Raphael, Church of St. Louis of the French, Rome.
The Cult of St. Cecilia, Patron of Musicians
Along the centuries, Saint Cecilia was, and still is, a source of inspiration for many composers and musicians. The day of her Feast, 22 November, became a yearly celebration of music all over the world.
The Christian faithful devoted to Saint Cecilia, especially musicians, are used to wearing a medal dedicated to this young Christian martyr.
Among the finest articles of Savelli Religious, you can find the shining medal representing Saint Cecilia, while playing the organ.
When do we celebrate St Cecilia, Catholic Saint for Music?