Feast Day: November 22
Common belief is that Cecilia, a young noblewoman, converted to Christianity and made a vow of chastity, which her family ignored when they arranged her marriage to Valerian, a pagan. On the night of the wedding, Cecilia was able to not only convince her new husband to let her remain a virgin, but also converted him to Christianity. She accomplished this by warning him that an angel guarded her but that he would not see this angel unless he was baptized. She sent him to the catacombs, where he was baptized. Returning home, Valerian found an angel standing by Cecilia, holding two crowns of roses and lilies, which he placed on their heads before vanishing.
On hearing this story, Valerian’s brother Tibertius also agreed to be baptized. The brothers devoted themselves, until they were thrown into prison, to burying the Christian martyrs of that time. In prison, the brothers converted their jailer, Maximus, and were executed with him. Following the execution of her husband and brother-in-law, Cecilia arranged to have her home preserved as a church.
When Cecilia was caught burying her husband and his brother, she was condemned to death. The executioner came to her home, an act of courtesy because of her high rank. She was supposed to be suffocated in her steam room, but after twenty-four hours, when the room was unsealed, Cecilia was unharmed. The prefect sent another executioner to cut off her head, but she would not succumb to death until she had received Holy Communion. He struck three times but bungled the job, and since Roman law did not allow a fourth try, he left Cecilia bleeding to death. It took her three days to die, and during that time a steady stream of the faithful visited her. She was buried with Valerian and his co-martyrs.
Cecilia’s body is recorded as incorrupt, or non-decaying. Since the 3rd century, without embalming and after laying at rest at first in the humid, subterranean conditions of the catacombs, her body miraculously remains intact. The last time it was exhumed, in the 17th century, her body remained the same. A church in Cecilia’s honor has stood in Rome since the 5th century. Cecilia is the patron saint of musicians, singers, and poets, because she sang in her heart to God as she was dying.
Saint Cecilia, pray for us and the conversion of sinners!
Gallick, Sarah. “The Big Book of Women Saints.” New York, NY: HarperOne, 2007.
Heritage, Andrew, ed. “The Book of Saints: A Day-By Illustrated Encyclopedia.” San Francisco: Weldonowen, 2012.
Trigilio, Rev. John, Ph.D, Th.D, and Rev. Kenneth Brighenti, Ph.D. “Saints for Dummies.” Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, 2010.