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St. Cecilia

Saint Cecilia (Latin: Sancta Caecilia) is the patron saint of musicians and Church music. She is often glorified in the fine arts and in poetry. Athough her name occurs under different dates in martyrology her feast day is celebrated on November 22. She is one of seven women, excluding the Blessed Virgin, commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.

Her story, found in the fifth century Acts of the martyrdom of St. Cecilia, tell us that she, a virgin of a senatorial family and a Christian from her infancy, was given in marriage by her parents to a noble pagan youth Valerianus. When, after the celebration of the marriage, the couple had retired to the wedding-chamber, Cecilia told Valerianus that she was betrothed to an angel who jealously guarded her body; therefore Valerianus must take care not to violate her virginity.

Valerianus wished to see the angel, whereupon Cecilia sent him to the third milestone on the Via Appia where he met Bishop (Pope) Urbanus. Valerianus obeyed, was baptized by the pope, and returned a Christian to Cecilia. An angel then appeared to the two and crowned them with roses and lilies. When Tiburtius, the brother of Valerianus, came to them, he too was won over to Christianity.

As zealous children of the Faith both brothers distributed rich alms and buried the bodies of the confessors who had died for Christ. The prefect, Turcius Almachius, condemned them to death; an officer of the prefect, Maximus, appointed to execute this sentence, was himself converted and suffered martyrdom with the two brothers. Their remains were buried in one tomb by Cecilia.

And now Cecilia herself was sought by the officers of the prefect. Before she was taken prisoner, she arranged that her house should be preserved as a place of worship for the Roman Church. After a glorious profession of faith, she was condemned to be suffocated in her own bathroom by steam. The attempt failed and she survived so the prefect ordered her decapitation.

The executioner had three attempts with his sword and failed to kill her or to separate the head from the trunk, and fled, leaving the virgin bathed in her own blood. She lived for a further three days after the failed execution. As a result of this most horrendous of deaths, she often depicted rather gruesomely, physically very weak and reclining with pipes in the background to signify the incoming steam and with her head hanging at an unlikely and awkward angle from her torso.

During her final three days, she made dispositions in favour of the poor, and provided that after her death her house should be dedicated as a church.

Her skull is kept as a relic in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta which is on the island of Torcello at the north end of the Venetian lagoon.

A church was built on the site of her house in Rome and there is now a convent adjacent to it.