November 22nd is the feast day of St. Cecilia. She is the patron saint of musicians, especially church musicians, of which I am one. Prior to my ordination I was at various times a Cantor, a choir director, and an organist.
St. Cecilia was born into a wealthy family in Rome in the 2nd or 3rd century A.D. Her parents promised her in marriage to a pagan nobleman named Valerian, even though she had vowed her virginity to God.
It is said that as the musicians played at her wedding, she “sang in her heart to God.” This story led to her being named the patron saint of (church) musicians, who should themselves sing to God rather than in order to impress human beings.
Prior to the consummation of her marriage, Cecilia told her husband Valerian that she had taken a vow of virginity and that an angel was watching over her to guard her purity. Valerian was skeptical and asked to see the angel as proof. Cecilia told him that he needed faith in order to do so and that he should journey to be baptized by Pope Urban, who was living near the third milestone along the Appian Way. Amazingly, Valerian made the journey.
Following his baptism, Valerian returned to his wife and found the angel by her side. The angel crowned Cecilia with a chaplet of roses and lilies. Shortly thereafter Valerian’s brother, Tibertius, was also baptized. The two brothers made it their mission to bury Christian martyrs who were put to death by the prefect of the city, Turcius Almachius.
Both brothers were eventually arrested and brought to trial before the prefect. They were executed when they refused to offer a sacrifice to the gods.
Meanwhile, the courageous Cecilia went about evangelizing. During her lifetime she was able to convert over four hundred people, most of whom were baptized by Pope Urban.
Cecilia was later arrested and condemned to be suffocated and scalded in the baths. The bathhouse doors were shut and the fires were stoked to an intense heat, but it is said that Cecilia did not even sweat. The prefect then sent an executioner to behead her, and although he struck her three times with the sword, was unable to decapitate her. He left her bleeding, and she clung to life for three days, preaching all the while. After her death, she was buried by Pope Urban and his deacons.
When Cecilia’s body was exhumed in 1599 it was found to be incorrupt; she was the first of the incorrupt saints. She was buried draped in a silk veil and wore a gold embroidered dress.
Give thanks to God for this heroic martyr and fruitful evangelizer!
I often go to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception here in Washington D.C. in order to celebrate Mass. On one occasion when I was in the crypt church, I took a series of photographs of the beautiful mosaics of the women of the Scriptures and the early Church. Among the women depicted there are Agatha, Agnes, Anastasia, Anne, Brigid, Catherine, Cecilia, Lucy, Margarita, Perpetua, Felicity, and Susanna.
At right is a mosaic of St. Cecilia.
The mosaics date back to 1927 and were designed and installed by Ravenna Mosaic Co. of St. Louis. They are the backdrops for the 14 side altars that ring the apse and side galleries of the crypt. Inspiring Latin inscriptions are integral to each mosaic. I could spend hours reading the inscriptions and studying them!
Below is a video I created several years ago of some of the images. The music you hear was composed by Francisco Guerrero. The Latin text of the music is from the Song of Songs: Ego flos campi, et lilium convallium. Sicut lilium inter spinas, sic amica mea inter filias (I am the flower of the field, and the lily of the valleys. As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters).