Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Saint Cecilia, pray for us.

Roman martyr, patron saint of music. According to legend, St Cecilia was a Roman Christian from a patrician family who lived in the 2nd or 3rd century. She had decided to remain single and devote her life to God, but was forced into an arranged marriage. While the wedding guests danced at her wedding, she sat apart singing only the psalms. Valerian, her husband, turned out to be very understanding and respected her vow of virginity.

He and his brother Tiburtius were both so impressed and attracted by Cecilia's graces, eventually they were both baptised. The family devoted themselves to charitable works including obtaining the bodies of martyred Christians and giving them decent burials. When the prefect Almachius found out what they were doing, he had them arrested and tried to force them to make sacrifices to the pagan gods. One of the soldiers who had interrogated them, a man called Maximus, was so struck by their conviction, he became a Christian too. The three men were put to death together.

St Cecilia buried them in the cemetery of Praetextatus. Then she turned her home into a place of worship. When her religion was discovered Almachius ordered her death by suffocation. She survived. Later a soldier came to behead her. Three blows failed to kill her and, according to legend, it took her three days to die. During that time, she was surrounded by friends and comforted everyone by singing praises to God.

Her house was later dedicated as a church by Pope Urban. In 1529 her tomb was opened and her body was found to be incorrupt. The sculptor Maderna made a life-size marble statue of her lying on her bed. A replica of this statue is on the site of her supposed tomb in Rome at the catacombs of Callistus.

Since the 16th century, St Cecilia has been patron of musicians. The traditional account of her life can be found in Chaucer's Second Nun's Tale. The Academy of Music in Rome chose her for their patron in 1584.

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