Saint Cecilia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Saint Cecilia playing the pipe organ
Virgin and martyr
Born200–230 AD
Died222–235 AD[1]
Venerated inOrthodox Church
Roman Catholic Church
Anglican Communion
Lutheran churches
Major shrineSanta Cecilia in Trastevere, Rome
Feast22 November
AttributesFlute, organ, roses, violin, harp, harpsichord, songbird, singing
PatronageSacred music, organ builders, luthiers; singers, musicians, poets; Archdiocese of Omaha, Albi, Mar del Plata, Argentina

Saint Cecilia (Latin: Sancta Caecilia), also spelled Cecelia, was a Roman virgin martyr and is venerated in Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and some Lutheran churches, such as the Church of Sweden.[2] She became the patroness of music and musicians, it being written that, as the musicians played at her wedding, Cecilia "sang in her heart to the Lord".[3][4] Musical compositions are dedicated to her, and her feast, on 22 November,[5] is the occasion of concerts and musical festivals. She is also known as Cecilia of Rome.

Saint Cecilia is one of several virgin martyrs commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass in the Latin Church. The church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, founded in the 3rd century by Pope Urban I, is believed to be on the site of the house where she lived and died.


Saints Cecilia, Valerian, and Tiburtius by Botticini

It is popularly supposed that Cecilia was a noble lady of Rome[4] who, with her husband Valerian, his brother Tiburtius, and a Roman soldier named Maximus, suffered martyrdom in about 230, under the Emperor Alexander Severus.[6][7] Giovanni Battista de Rossi, however, argues that instead she perished in Sicily under the Emperor Marcus Aurelius between 176 and 180, citing the report of Venantius Fortunatus, Bishop of Poitiers (d. 600).[8]

According to the story, despite her vow of virginity, her parents forced her to marry a pagan nobleman named Valerian. During the wedding, Cecilia sat apart singing to God in her heart, and for that, she was later declared the saint of musicians.[4] When the time came for her marriage to be consummated, Cecilia told Valerian that watching over her was an angel of the Lord, who would punish him if he sexually violated her but would love him if he respected her virginity. When Valerian asked to see the angel, Cecilia replied that he could see the angel if he would go to the third milestone on the Via Appia and be baptized by Pope Urban I. After following Cecilia's advice, he saw the angel standing beside her, crowning her with a chaplet of roses and lilies.[4]

The Ecstasy of St. Cecilia by Raphael

The martyrdom of Cecilia is said to have followed that of her husband Valerian and his brother at the hands of the prefect Turcius Almachius.[9] The legend about Cecilia's death says that after being struck three times on the neck with a sword, she lived for three days, and asked the pope to convert her home into a church.[10]

St. Cecilia was buried in the Catacomb of Callixtus and later transferred to the Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere. In 1599, her body was found still incorrupt, seeming to be asleep.[4]

Cecilia is one of the most famous Roman martyrs, although some elements of the stories recounted about her do not appear in the source material.[10] According to Johann Peter Kirsch, the existence of the martyr is a historical fact. At the same time, some details bear the mark of a pious romance, like many other similar accounts compiled in the fifth and sixth centuries. The relation between Cecilia and Valerian, Tiburtius, and Maximus, mentioned in the Acts of the Martyrs, has some historical foundation. Her feast day has been celebrated since about the fourth century.[11] There is no mention of Cecilia in the Depositio Martyrum, but there is a record of an early Roman church founded by a lady of this name, Santa Cecilia in Trastevere.[12]

Santa Cecilia in Trastevere[edit]

The church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere is reputedly built on the site of the house in which she lived. The original church was constructed in the fourth century; during the ninth century, Pope Paschal I had remains that were supposedly hers buried there. In 1599, while leading a renovation of the church, Cardinal Paolo Emilio Sfondrati had the remains, which he reported to be incorrupt, excavated and reburied.[13]


The name "Cecilia" applied generally to Roman women who belonged to the plebeian clan of the Caecilii. Legends and hagiographies, mistaking it for a personal name, suggest fanciful etymologies. Among those cited by Chaucer in "The Second Nun's Tale" are: lily of heaven, the way for the blind, contemplation of heaven and the active life, as if lacking in blindness, and a heaven for people to gaze upon.[14]

Patroness of musicians[edit]

Orazio Gentileschi and Giovanni Lanfranco, Saint Cecilia and an Angel, c. 1617–1618 and c. 1621–1627, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The first record of a music festival in her honour was held at Évreux in Normandy in 1570.[15]

The Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome is one of the oldest musical institutions in the world. It was founded by the papal bull, Ratione congruit, issued by Sixtus V in 1585, which invoked two saints prominent in Western musical history: Gregory the Great, after whom Gregorian chant is named, and Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music.

Her feast day became an occasion for musical concerts and festivals that occasioned well-known poems by John Dryden and Alexander Pope[16] and music by Henry Purcell (Ode to St. Cecilia); 3 different oratorios by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Caecilia virgo et martyr octo vocibus H.397, for soloists, double Chorus, double string orchestra and bc, Cecilia virgo et martyr H.413, for soloists, chorus, 2 treble instruments and bc, and Caecilia virgo et martyr H.415, for soloists, chorus, 2 treble instruments and bc, to libretti probably written by Philippe Goibaut); George Frideric Handel (Ode for St. Cecilia's Day; Alexander's Feast); Charles Gounod (St. Cecilia Mass); as well as Benjamin Britten, who was born on her feast day (Hymn to St Cecilia, based on a poem by W. H. Auden). Herbert Howells' A Hymn to Saint Cecilia has words by Ursula Vaughan Williams; Gerald Finzi's "For Saint Cecilia", Op. 30, was set to verses written by Edmund Blunden; Michael Hurd's 1966 composition "A Hymn to Saint Cecilia"[17] sets John Dryden's poem; and Frederik Magle's Cantata to Saint Cecilia is based on the history of Cecilia.[18] The Heavenly Life, a poem from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (which Gustav Mahler used in his Symphony No. 4) mentions that "Cecilia and all her relations make excellent court musicians."

From the name of Cecilia comes Cecyliada, the name of the festival of sacred, choral, and contemporary music, held from 1994 in Police, Poland.


The Martyrdom of St Cecilia by Carlo Saraceni (c. 1610)

Cecilia symbolizes the central role of music in the liturgy.[10]

The Cistercian nuns of the convent nearby Santa Cecilia in Trastevere shear lambs' wool to be woven in the palliums of new metropolitan archbishops. The lambs are raised by the Trappists of the Abbey Tre Fontane in Rome. The Pope blesses the lambs every 21 January, the Feast of Saint Agnes. The pallia are given by the Pope to the new metropolitan archbishops on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, 29 June.

Located on the Isle of Wight, St. Cecilia's Abbey, Ryde was founded in 1882. The nuns live a traditional monastic life of prayer, work, and study in accordance with the ancient Rule of Saint Benedict.[19]

The famous luthier Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume produces a line of violin and viola under the name St. Cécile with a decal stamped on the upper back.[20]

Cecilia is remembered in the Church of England with a commemoration on 22 November.[21] She is honored on the Episcopal Church liturgical calendar with Agnes of Rome on January 21.[22]

Croatian journal for church music Sveta Cecilija is named after her. It is published since 1877.[23]


Cecilia is frequently depicted playing the viola, a portative organ, or other musical instruments,[10] evidently to express what was often attributed to her, namely that while the musicians played at her nuptials, she sang in her heart to God, though the organ may be misattributed to her,[11] as the result of a mistranslation.[24]

A miniature Saint Cecilia beneath Worcester Cathedral was featured on the reverse side of the Sir Edward Elgar £20 banknote, which was withdrawn by the Bank of England in 2010.[25]

In music[edit]

Renaissance, baroque and classical music[edit]

  • Marc-Antoine Charpentier composed four Histoires sacrées using a text thought to have been written by his colleague Philippe Goibaut des Bois La Grugère:
    • In honorem Caeciliae, Valeriani et Tiburtij canticum H.394 for three voices, two treble instruments, and continuo (1675 ?).
    • Caecilia virgo et martyr octo vocibus H.397 for soloists, double chorus, double orchestra, and continuo (1677–78).
    • Caecilia virgo et martyr, H.413 for soloists, chorus, and two treble instruments (1683–85).
    • Caecilia virgo et martyr H.415 – H.415 a for soloists, chorus, and two treble instruments (1686).
  • Henry Purcell, Laudate Ceciliam (1683), Welcome to all the pleasures (1683), Raise, raise the voice (c1685) and Hail! Bright Cecilia (1692).[26]
  • Sébastien de Brossard, "Canticle for Saint Cécila" SdB.9 (1720 ?)
  • Alessandro Scarlatti Il martirio di santa Cecilia, oratorio donné pour la première fois le 1er mars 1708; Messa di Santa Cecilia(1720).
  • Georg Friedrich Haendel composed two works for Saint Cecilia with John Dryden: The Oratorio Alexander's Feast or The Power of Music (1736) and Ode for St. Cecilia's Day (1739).
  • Joseph Haydn, Missa Sanctae Caeciliae ou Missa Cellensis in honorem Beatissimae Virginis Mariae (1766–67).
  • Ferdinand Hiller, St. Cäcilia (1848), cantata for soloists and orchestra to the text by Wolfgang Müller von Königswinter.
  • Charles Gounod, Hymne à Sainte Cécile, CG 557 (1865) for solo violin and orchestra[27]
  • Julius Benedict, Legend of Saint Cecilia (premiered 1866)[28]

Contemporary music[edit]

In pop culture[edit]


See also[edit]



  1. ^ Dom Gaspar LeFebvre, OSB (1952). The Saint Andrew Missal, with Vespers for Sundays and Feasts. Saint Paul, MN: E. M. Lohmann Co. p. 1685.
  2. ^ "Helgon- och minnesdagar i Domkyrkan". 5 February 2019.
  3. ^ Lovewell 1898.
  4. ^ a b c d e Fr. Paolo O. Pirlo, SHMI (1997). "St. Cecilia". My First Book of Saints. Sons of Holy Mary Immaculate – Quality Catholic Publications. pp. 280–282. ISBN 978-971-91595-4-4.
  5. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Cecilia, Saint" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 5 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 593.
  6. ^ Fuller, Osgood Eaton: Brave Men and Women. BiblioBazaar, LLC, 2008, p. 272. ISBN 0-554-34122-0.
  7. ^ Mason 1917, p. 307.
  8. ^ Rom. sott. ii. 147.
  9. ^ The Life of Saint Cecilia Archived 11 October 2007 at the Wayback MachineGolden Legend article
  10. ^ a b c d Leonard Foley, OFM, revised by Pat McCloskey. "Saint of the Day: Saint Cecilia". Franciscan Media]. ISBN 978-0-86716-887-7.
  11. ^ a b Kirsch 1908.
  12. ^ "Feast: November 22".
  13. ^ Goodson, Caroline J. (February 2007). "Material memory: rebuilding the basilica of S. Cecilia in Trastevere". Early Medieval Europe. 15: 2–34. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0254.2007.00197.x. S2CID 161895373.
  14. ^ Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, The Second Nun's Tale Archived 30 June 2012 at, prologue, 85–119. As the rubric to these lines declares, the nun draws her etymologies from the Legenda Aurea of Jacobus de Voragine (Jacobus Januensis – James of Genoa – in the rubric).
  15. ^ "".
  16. ^ Ode on St. Cecilia's Day (composed 1711) at, for example,
  17. ^ Published by Novello & Co., HL.14013968
  18. ^ "En bemærkelsesværdig cd" (in Danish). Udfordringen. 29 January 2004. Retrieved 17 May 2012.
  19. ^ "St. Cecilia's Abbey". Archived from the original on 15 May 2021. Retrieved 24 April 2013.
  20. ^ "J.B. Vuillaume: soloist violin St. Cecile des Thernes".
  21. ^ "The Calendar". The Church of England. Retrieved 8 April 2021.
  22. ^ "Agnes and Cecilia of Rome". The Episcopal Church. Retrieved 19 July 2022.
  23. ^ "Sveta Cecilija : časopis za sakralnu glazbu" [Sacred Cecilia : a sacral music magazine]. Hrčak. Retrieved 23 November 2023.
  24. ^ Verspaandonk, J. A. J. M. (1975). Het hemels prentenboek: Devotie- en bidprentjes vanaf de 17e eeuw tot het begin van de 20e eeuw. Hilversum: Gooi en Sticht. p. 15.
  25. ^ "20 Pounds Sterling 2004 Kingdom of Great Britain". Retrieved 23 November 2022.
  26. ^ The Gentleman's Journal, or Monthly Miscellany, November 1692, cited in Rimbault's edition, London: Musical Antiquarian Society Publications, 1848, p. 2.
  27. ^ List of works by Charles Gounod, IMSLP, accessed 2022-05-14
  28. ^ "Snimljena duhovna kantata "Legenda o svetoj Ceciliji"" [Spiritual cantata "Legend of Saint Cecilia" recorded]. (in Croatian). Croatian Catholic Network. 15 November 2022. Retrieved 23 November 2023.
  29. ^ "Judith Shatin – The Passion of St. Cecilia". February 2012.
  30. ^ "Judith Shatin: Fantasy on Saint Cecilia (1st mvt.) (Gayle Martin, piano)". 17 April 2015. Archived from the original on 7 November 2021 – via YouTube.
  31. ^ "Judith Shatin – Fantasy on St. Cecilia". February 2012.
  32. ^ "Alfred Momotenko – Cecilia".
  33. ^ Lebeau, Jennifer (Director) (2011). The Harmony Game: The Making of Bridge Over Troubled Water (Motion picture). US: Emerging Pictures.
  34. ^ "Arvo Pärt: Cecilia, vergine romana". L'Osservatore Romano (in Italian). Retrieved 18 November 2018.
  35. ^ "Howells, A Hymn for St. Cecilia".
  36. ^ "Foo Fighters release surprise new EP, Saint Cecilia, for free download". 23 November 2015.
  37. ^ Cohen, Aaron (1987). International Encyclopedia of Women Composers. New York: Books & Music (U.S.A.) Inc. p. 753. ISBN 0961748516.
  38. ^ "Girls". Retrieved 20 January 2019.
  39. ^ Hernandez, Raoul (20 November 2009). "All Times Through Paradise". Retrieved 19 August 2019.
  40. ^ "Saint Cecilia and Pastor Lawrence (TV) - Anime News Network". Retrieved 14 September 2023.
  41. ^ Gordon, Rob (10 February 2020). "Song of Horror Episode 4 Review: A Clever, Concise Dose of Terror". Screen Rant. Valnet Inc. Archived from the original on 18 February 2023. Retrieved 24 February 2023.
  42. ^ Tower, Martin (2021). Sveta Cecilija. Split: Naklada Bošković. ISBN 9789532636116.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ælfric of Eynsham (1881). "Of Saint Cecilia" . Ælfric's Lives of Saints. London, Pub. for the Early English text society, by N. Trübner & co.
  • Connolly, Thomas (1995). Mourning into Joy: Music, Raphael, and Saint Cecilia. Yale. ISBN 9780300059014.
  • Hanning, Barbara Russano (2004). "From Saint to Muse: Representations of Saint Cecilia in Florence". Music in Art: International Journal for Music Iconography. 29 (1–2): 91–103. ISSN 1522-7464.
  • Lovewell, B.E. (1898). The Life of St. Cecilia. Yale Studies in English. Boston: Lamson, Wolffe, and Company.
  • Kirsch, Johann Peter (1908). "St. Cecilia" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  • Luckett, Richard (1972–1973). "St. Cecilia and Music". Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association. 99: 15–30. doi:10.1093/jrma/99.1.15.
  • Mason, Daniel Gregory (1917). F. H. Martens; M. W. Cochran; W. D. Darby) (eds.). A Dictionary-Index of Musicians. The Art of Music: A Comprehensive Library of Information for Music Lovers and Musicians. New York: National Society of Music.
  • Meine, Sabine (2004). "Cecilia without a Halo: The Changing Musical Virtues". Music in Art: International Journal for Music Iconography. 29 (1–2): 104–112. ISSN 1522-7464.
  • Rice, John A. (2022). Saint Cecilia in the Renaissance: The Emergence of a Musical Icon. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226817101.
  • White, Bryan (2019). Music for St Cecilia's Day from Purcell to Handel. Boydell. ISBN 9781783273478.

External links[edit]