Saturday, November 22, 2008

Saint Cecilia

A parish window in the Austrian Tyrol.

Saint Cecilia is one, of the seven female (all martyred), Saints of this Second Intercession in the Roman canon. The other six are: Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Anastasia. All these saints come from the period before the toleration and legalisation of the Church. A time when the Roman state would actively, though not continuously, persecute the Church, sometimes with the utmost of intensity and theatrical cruelty. These saints are remembered and celebrated during mass, for their love of Christ and constancy of faith.

She has been continuously venerated since her martyrdom. She was buried on the Appian Way in the Catacomb of Callistus. There are a few pious legends abut her life, that, the skeptical have little confidence in. Even her chronology is not settled. One thread says her martyrdom occurred in 177, after her husband, and his brother. She was of a senatorial family, and therefore, was granted dignity a plebian or slave would not have. Her death sentence was to be suffocation, which failed, then a botched decapitation by sword, which she survived, after the third blow, for a time.

At some time, at least before the modern age, she became a patron of music. During her marriage ceremony, while disinterested in the festivities and earthly music, she was enraptured with heavenly song. There are representations of Cecilia in churches with an organ or bowed stringed instruments, which certainly did not exist in those forms in ancient times. Reni, Raphaƫl, Rubens, Poussin, Orazio Gentileschi, and Saraceni painted her, and Donatello and Stefano Maderno sculpted her. Her tomb in the church of St. Cecilia in Trastevere, Rome was opened in 1599, and her body was incorrupt. At the base of the statue,
Maderno carved, “Behold the body of the most holy virgin Cecilia whom I myself saw lying incorrupt in her tomb. I have in this marble expressed for thee the same saint in the very same posture of body.”

There are in parishes, around the world, Saint Cecilia singing or music societies. The Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, of Rome, Italy was founded in 1585 as a grandiose institution is but one such, even though it has had some impressive members. e.g. Palestrina, Corelli and the Scarlattis. Alessandro Scarlatti and Charles Gounod composed masses for Cecelia. Her association with music lasted in England even amongst certain of the heretics, and public concerts took place on her day.

Tangentially, in 1940 a swedish song, The Shrine of Saint Cecilia, was written and was translated into english. The next year, The Andrews Sisters and others recorded it thereafter; in 1953, an R&B group, The Royals made it to the charts. The sound of ‘
Cecilia’ is pleasant and musical to the year, while Cecil’, either the british or the american pronounciation, is not.
... The bells in the chapel never ring anymore
The clock in the steeple can't tell time as before
But up on the hillside, stands a place heaven blest
The shrine of Saint Cecilia

Each day at eventide
When I seek haven from my daily care
You'll find me by her side
It seems so peaceful there

I kneel in my solitude and silently pray
That heaven will protect you, dear, and there'll come a day
The storm will be over and that we'll meet again
At the shrine of Saint Cecilia ...

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