We sing about her, we have concerts in her honour – but who was St Cecilia and why is she the patron saint of musicians?
Well she’s thought to have come from one of third century Rome’s aristocratic and wealthy families and was said to have worn sackcloth next to her skin and constantly called upon the angels, saints and virgins to preserve her own maidenhood.
That didn’t stop her being given in marriage to the Roman Valerian but she is said to have spent the ceremony singing ‘in her heart’ to God or listening to heavenly music. No doubt Valerian was delighted when she told him on the wedding night that she had taken a vow of virginity and was now protected by an angel.
Understandably, her new husband was quite keen to see this angel,but his wife told him that wouldn’t be possible until he had travelled part way along one of Rome’s most important roads, the Via Appia and been baptised by the Pope.
This he duly did and returned to see the angel, who is then said to have crowned Cecilia with a garland of roses and lilies. Word of all this reached Valerian’s brother Tibertius who responded with his own baptism and the brothers went on to dedicate their lives to burying those killed for their faith by the city’s then prefect. The siblings were ultimately executed for their trouble.
Cecilia, meanwhile, spent her life preaching and was said to have converted over 400 people as a result but this, too, led to her arrest. She was condemned to die by suffocation in the public baths. However, despite being shut up for around 48 hours as the fires were stoked to a blazing heat, she survived – without even breaking a sweat.
So the city’s same prefect then ordered her decapitation. She was struck three times but lived on for another three days while crowds visited, collecting her blood as she continued to preach and pray.
She is buried under the high altar of her titular church in Trastevere, Rome, and is regarded as the patroness of musicians/music because of all she heard and sang on her wedding day.