Continuing with our string of “virgin martyrs”, this week we have St. Cecilia, a Roman noblewoman of a senatorial family. She was baptized as an infant (see, they even had infant baptisms in the early Church!), and when she came of age, she was given in marriage to a pagan man named Valerianus.
Now after the wedding, as the couple went to their wedding chamber, Cecilia told Valerianus that she was already betrothed to Christ, and that the angels guarded her purity. Valerianus asked to see these angels (sarcastically, I could imagine), so Cecilia sent him to meet Pope Urban I along the Appian Way so Valerianus could see why she had become betrothed to Christ. He did as she said, and was so taken by the faith preached by Urban and witnessed by Cecilia, that he and his brother Tiburtius were both baptized into the faith. The three of them became outstanding examples of Christian friendship, and did amazing things together. They distributed alms to the poor and buried the bodies of those who had been martyred for Christ.
All this caught the attention of the authorities, who dispatched an executioner named Maximus to put the brothers to death. But Maximus was so moved by their incredible faith and acts of charity, that he laid down his sword, confessed faith in Christ, and was himself martyred alongside Tiburtius and Valerianus.
Cecilia was likewise captured and condemned to death by suffocation in the bath of her own home. This is the bath as we would normally think of, but a Roman-style steam bath, almost like a sauna. As it turned out, no matter how hot the bath became, or much suffocating steam filled the room, Cecilia resisted all day and all night. When the executioners became frustrated, Cecilia met her martyrdom by beheading. Pope Urban I recovered her body and buried it next to her friends in the Catacombs of St. Callistus along the Appian Way.
Today, the beautiful church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere houses her remains. It is one of the titular churches, which as you might remember were the original parish churches in Rome. The church has a very interesting history dating back to the saint herself. The tradition holds that as Cecilia was facing her death, she donated her home to the Church to be used as a place of worship. The present Church is built over that home, which as you recall, is also the site of her martyrdom. Excavations in the 1800’s by the famous archaeologist Giovanni Battista de Rossi discovered the house’s foundations under the present-day church, confirming the tradition, at least in some part.
St. Cecilia is most commonly invoked as the patroness of musicians because it is said that at her wedding, while people were singing pagan songs in celebration, she “was singing in her heart a hymn of love to Jesus, her true spouse.” Here at All Saints, we are reminded of her example by the painting above the organ in the choir loft of the church. Today, as we remember St. Cecilia’s great example of friendship and devotion, let’s ask her prayers as well for our musicians, that they too would lead us in singing a hymn of love to Christ!