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Need to know - Saint Cecilia

Updated: Nov 22, 2022

Saint Cecilia (the name Cecilia meaning ‘of the plebeian clan of Caecilii) is a Roman martyr (isn’t it always the way) venerated as the Saint of music and musicians.

There’s a Saint for music?!

Well, there’s a saint for almost everything, check our 'need to know' series and you’ll learn as much.

What makes her the Saint of music then?

Well, her martyrdom took on a musical tone when her parents forced her to marry a pagan nobleman named Valerian (who would become Saint Valerian, by the way) somewhere between 176 and 180AD. During the wedding, Cecilia performed a type of musical protest and sat apart from the guests singing her heart out to God. Remember, at this time the Romans had their pagan Gods and Christianity was seen as an insult to Roman culture, its practice usually ending in death.

What did her new husband think of his singing bride?

Valerian wasn’t a bad chap as it goes. Cecilia told him that he was to respect her virginity for she was being looked over by an angel of the Lord. He asked to see the angel, to which she replied he could if he went to the third milestone on the Via Appia and be baptised by Pope Urban. Which the ever-curious man did, only to see an angel stood beside her. Which must have been something of a shock.

This is all rather pleasant so far, where is the martyrdom?

A little bloodthirsty, well, as we know there were a lot of furious Roman’s patrolling the Empire looking for Christians to make into ‘need to know’ articles. Enter Prefect Turcius Almachius, who executed Valerian and his brother Tiburtius. It seems Cecilia escaped but not for long. She was found and struck three times on the neck with a sword which...she survived, for three days and asked the Pope to convert her home into a church.

She survived having her neck hit with a sword?

There was an angel in this story as well you know...anyway, her legacy has been impressive and she is considered one of the most famous of the Roman martyrs.

What is her legacy?

Well, in a world where music is one of the best ways to tell a story, transmit emotion and explore the unknown she has a worthy platform as the Saint of hymns, great musicians, poets and pipe organs. The Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome is one of the oldest musical institutions in the world. Her feast day, November 22nd, became on occasion for grand musical concerts and festivals that inspired well known poems by John Dryden And Alexander Pope as well as music by Henry Purcell ‘Ode to Cecilia’ and a whole archive of creative output across generations.

You can even see her on the old British £20 notes on the reverse side from Sir Edward Elgar, there is a miniature Saint Cecilia below Worcester Cathedral.

How do we celebrate?

Well, it is common for music festivals to be held around this time, but we recommend simply enjoying some music. If you play an instrument, bang out a tune, if not stick some tunes on and have a little boogie. Just not reggaeton, reggaeton is the devil’s music.

Thanks for all the music Saint Cecilia!


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