Cecilia, St.

views updated


Virgin and martyr. Though she is one of the most celebrated Roman martyrs, there is no trace of a cult of Cecilia in early times. She is not mentioned by the chronographer of 354 or by Ambrose, Damasus, Jerome, or Prudentius; nor is she represented in any of the early Christian decorated "gold glasses". A fragmentary inscription dated by G. B. de rossi between 379 and 464 refers to a church (titulus ) named after her. On Nov. 22, 545, her feast was celebrated in the basilica of St. Cecilia in Trastevere. According to a legend of the fifth or sixth century, Cecilia was a young Christian of high rank betrothed to the noble Valerian, whom she converted to Christianity, and who was executed, together with his brother Tiburtius, by the Roman prefect, Turcius Almachius.

Cecilia, though ordered to be suffocated in a hot bath, escaped unharmed. After being struck three times on the neck with a sword, she lived for three days and asked Pope Urban to convert her house into a church. These events are connected with a persecution under either Marcus Aurelius or Diocletian. Cecilia was buried in a crypt next to that of the popes in the Catacomb of Calixtus. It is possible that a pious Christian woman of the old Caecilian family, but not a martyr, obtained this site for Cecilia's burial. In April 821 her body was removed from the crypt by Pope Paschal I and placed under the altar of the basilica of St. Cecilia, though the Liber pontificalis states that the body was found in the Catacomb of Praetextatus. In 1599 this tomb was reopened, and Maderna carved the statue of the saint that is now seen beneath the altar. From the time of the Renaissance, St. Cecilia is usually portrayed with a small organ or viola. She is the patron of musicians.

Feast: Nov. 22.

Bibliography: t. connolly, Mourning into Joy: Music, Raphael, and Saint Cecilia (New Haven 1994). v. l. kennedy, The Saints of the Canon of the Mass (Rome 1938). n. pirrotta, Ceciliana, ed. m. a. balsano and g. collisani (Palermo 1994). r. puschmann, Heinrich von Kleists Cäcilien-Erzählung: Kunstund literarhistorische Recherchen (Bielefeld 1988). e. josi, Bibliotheca sanctorum 3:122629.

[m. j. costelloe]