St. Cecilia

About Saint Cecilia

Saint Cecilia Playing Music
Saint Cecilia Playing Music

Has there ever been a time when music has helped you in a way? Regardless of whether it was an energetic song getting you into your workout zone or a soothing ballad calming you down after a frustrating day, music has a way of helping us express emotions and get into the right mindset for different things. Some people use music occasionally for comfort, and others use it daily for the enjoyment of themselves and others. Music can be used for prayer, for play, and many other causes. It makes sense that this powerful method of expression would be attributed to one of the most venerated martyrs of Christianity.

Born around the 2nd or 3rd century A.D., Saint Cecilia is a woman shrouded in mystery and honored as a martyr. Popular tradition holds that she, the daughter of a wealthy family, was promised in marriage to a Roman pagan named Valerian, despite the fact that she had already vowed her virginity to God, fasting and praying that her promise be preserved. It is said that on the day of her wedding she heard heavenly music inside her heart, and that very same wedding night she confronted Valerian. She told him that she was betrothed to an angel, one who jealously guarded her body, and warned Valerian that he must be careful not to violate her virginity. Valerian insisted upon meeting this angel, and Cecilia sent him to the 3rd milestone on the Via Appia where he should meet the Bishop, Pope Urbanus. He was baptized by the pope and returned to Cecilia, where an angel came, crowning them with roses and lilies. Valerian’s brother, Tiburtius, came to visit them and was also converted to Christianity. It is also said that the brothers Cecilia converted became adamant witnesses to Christ, distributing rich alms and burying those who died glorifying Christ.

The Beheading of St Cecilia
The Beheading of St Cecilia

Though the preceding stories were tradition, we know these following facts of their martyrdoms as historical truth. It did not take long for the Roman Prefect Turcius Almachius to notice the three Christian’s acts and condemn them to death. Maximus, the officer entrusted with the carrying through of this sentence, was converted as well and martyred by the sword with the two brothers. In light of this sudden betrayal, more trustworthy officers of the prefect were sent with haste to imprison Cecilia. Before being taken prisoner she made for her home to be used as a church after her inevitable martyrdom. She was taken before the prefect and condemned to suffocation in the baths of her home. Cecilia remained unscathed after spending quite a while in the overheated room, much to the frustration and confusion of her Roman holders, and the prefect sent in an executioner to finish the job. The executioner struck her neck thrice with a sword in an attempt to decapitate her, but failed with every stroke to separate her head from her shoulders. The Romans left her to die, bathed in a pool of her own blood. Miraculously, she lived three days more, preaching, converting pagans, favoring the poor, and making arrangements for her house to be dedicated as a place of worship. After her three days of suffering in prayer, St. Cecilia’s soul was passed over to God, her body buried in the Catacomb of Callistus by Pope Urbanus.

Usually depicted with the crown of martyrdom or an organ, St. Cecilia is credited as the patron saint of musicians largely for her large following of musical dedication and her experience of heavenly music at her wedding. Her feast day is celebrated on the 22nd of November. St. Cecilia has opened up the doors of liturgical music, reminding us of the importance of faith through song in the lives of Christians throughout the church and the world.

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More About St. Cecilia

St. Cecilia is often pictured with a musical instrument, and many musicians may pray for her guidance before a performance or recital. But why is St. Cecilia the patroness of music? And what is the rest of the story on this beautiful and well-loved saint?

St. Cecilia was born in the 2nd or 3rd century to a wealthy Christian family. From her childhood, she was promised to marry a man named Valerian, who was a pagan. St. Cecilia, however, had dedicated herself completely to God, and wore sackcloth, fasted and prayed in the hopes that she would be able to maintain her promise of virginity to God by convincing Valerian to marry someone else. Her efforts were in vain, though, and St. Cecilia and Valerian were married. During the wedding celebration, St. Cecilia heard heavenly music in her heart while the crowd around her engaged in bawdy and improper behavior. On their wedding night, St. Cecilia revealed to Valerian that she had promised her virginity to God, and that she was guarded by an angel sent to keep her pure. Valerian asked to see the angel, and St. Cecilia sent him to speak with Pope Urban.

Accounts of how Valerian saw St. Cecilia’s angel vary; however, after meeting with Pope Urban, Valerian was convinced of St. Cecilia’s promise to God, and he himself was baptized a Christian. Upon returning home to St. Cecilia, they were both visited by an angel who bestowed a heavenly crown on each of their heads. Following this event, Valerian’s brother, Tibertius, is also converted to Christianity.

St. Cecilia's tomb
St. Cecilia’s tomb

Valerian and Tibertius, both newly baptized and zealous for the Faith, decided to make it their mission to give a respectful burial to the Christian martyrs of the time. Due to this, the Roman prefect sentenced both of them to death. This did not stop St. Cecilia from sharing the Faith with all she met, trying to convert as many to Christianity as she could. The Roman prefect discovered her actions, and she too was sentenced to death. Her death was to be conducted by locking her in the bathhouse, and lighting the fires until she suffocated. The fires raged on and on, but after a full day and night, St. Cecilia was still alive. The prefect then ordered that St. Cecilia was to be beheaded. The executioner struck her neck with his axe three times, but was unable to completely behead her. She lay, badly wounded, for three days. As she lay dying, people came to her and she continued to preach and convert many to the heart of God. On the third day of her suffering, she died.

Her remains were exhumed in 1599 and were incorrupt. This site is where the church of St. Cecilia was built in Rome. In this church, there is a statue over the spot where her body was discovered, depicting a woman lying on the ground, with her head turned away and a mark at her neck where she was struck with the axe.

During the Middle Ages in Europe, devotion to St. Cecilia spread as many songs, poems, and paintings were created in her honor. In 1584 she was named patroness of the academy of music which was founded in Rome, Italy. She has been featured in many works, by artists such as Raphael, Rubens, Domenichino. Chaucer mentions her in “The Canterbury Tales.” Even the Andrews Sisters, in 1941, sang a song entitled, “The Shrine of St. Cecilia.”

Find beautiful medals that honor Saint Cecilia here.

The Patronage of St. Cecilia

St. Cecilia is the patron saint of: the blind, bodily purity, composers, music and musicians, musical instrument makers, poets, and singers. The feast of St. Cecilia is November 22.

St. Cecilia in Art

St. Cecilia is usually depicted in art with a musical instrument – most commonly an organ, as this is the instrument most traditionally associated with liturgical music. Many artists have depicted her with a wide variety of instruments; some of the more commonly seen would be the lute and the harp. She is dressed in clothing representative of the time she lived (long, flowing robes and occasionally a veil/headdress. Sometimes she is shown with lilies symbolizing her purity, as well as the angel who was sent to guard her when she made her promise of virginity to God.

Prayers of St. Cecilia

Let Saint Cecilia be your partner in prayer as you say the prayers below or as part of your rosary devotion. Find Saint Cecilia Rosary Beads here.

Litany of St. Cecilia

Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us.

Christ hear us. Christ, graciously hear us.

God the Father of Heaven, Have mercy on us.

God the Son, Redeemer of the world, Have mercy on us.

God the Holy Spirit, Have mercy on us.

Holy Trinity, one God, Have mercy on us.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us.

Saint Cecilia, Pray for us.

Saint Cecilia, wise virgin, Pray for us.

Saint Cecilia, whose heart burned with the fire of Divine love, Pray for us.

Saint Cecilia, apostle by thy zeal and charity, Pray for us.

Saint Cecilia, who converted thy spouse and procured for him the crown of Martyrdom, Pray for us.

Saint Cecilia, who by thy pleadings moved the hearts of pagans, and brought them into the true Church,

Pray for us.

Saint Cecilia, who didst unceasingly see thy guardian Angel by thy side, Pray for us.

Saint Cecilia, who didst mingle thy voice with the celestial harmonies of the virgins, Pray for us.

Saint Cecilia, who by thy melodious accents celebrated the praises of Jesus, Pray for us.

Saint Cecilia, illustrious Martyr of Jesus Christ, Pray for us.

Saint Cecilia, who during three days dist suffer most excruciating torments, Pray for us.

Saint Cecilia, consolation of the afflicted, Pray for us.

Saint Cecilia, protectress of all who invoke thee, Pray for us.

Saint Cecilia, patroness of holy canticles, Pray for us.

Saint Cecilia, special patroness and advocate of all singers, musicians, authors, and students, Pray for us.

We salute thee, O Virgin, who didst give thy blood for the defense and faith of Jesus Christ.

Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Spare us, O Lord.

Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Graciously hear us, O Lord.

Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Have mercy on us.

God glorified Saint Cecilia,

And He crowned her virtues.

Let us pray: O Eternal God, Who didst give us, in the person of Saint Cecilia, a powerful protectress, grant that after having faithfully passed our days, like herself, in innocence and holiness, we may one day attain the land of beatitude, where in concert with her, we may praise Thee and bless Thee forevermore in eternity. Amen.

Prayer to St. Cecilia

St. Cecilia, glorious Virgin and Martyr of Jesus Christ, I admire the courage with which you professed your faith in the face of severe persecution, and the generous love with which you offered your life in witness to your belief in the Blessed Trinity. I thank God with you for the wonderful graces He had bestowed upon you to make your life holy and pleasing to Him even in the midst of the wealth that was yours. I thank Him for the privilege offered to you of receiving the glorious crown of martyrdom.

Saint Cecilia, I also admire the purity of love that bound you to the Savior, which was greater in your eyes than any human affection, so that you declared yourself before the enemies of the Church, “I am the bride of my Lord Jesus Christ”. Pray for me that in imitation of you I may keep my body pure and my soul holy, and that I may love Jesus with all my heart.

In these times so full of pleasure seeking and so lacking in faith, teach us to profess our faith courageously and to be willing to sacrifice ourselves in practicing it, so that our good example may lead others closer to Christ and the Church He as founded.

In thanksgiving to God for the graces he bestowed on St Cecilia: Our Father. Hail Mary. Glory be. St. Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr of Jesus Christ, pray for us.

Prayer to St. Cecilia

O gentle Cecilia, sweet voice and melody of the Heart of Jesus. We come to you to beg your assistance. Pray for us Cecilia, teach us to sing to glories of God and also for the Glory of God. Give us the voice to sing the “Ave” as you did at the hour of your martyrdom. Pray for us o martyr with a singing heart. Amen.

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