By Gisele Pappas
Generally depicted in drawings and paintings with a pipe organ, and sometimes with a violin or a harp, St. Cecilia — one is led to believe — was a musician of great skill. It is interesting to learn that she did not earn the title of being the patroness of musicians and singers through a background playing musical instruments at all.
There are not a great deal of facts to rely on in the history of St. Cecilia, but church historians and others who researched her background to be able to relate her life story and faith journey to sainthood have been able to piece together enough information to draw reasonable conclusions about the many stories that were passed down through the years.
St. Cecilia was converted as a young lady from a noble family. She had dedicated herself to the faith, vowing to remain a virgin. Against her wishes, she was betrothed to a pagan. All the while that she was waiting for the wedding, she prayed, and reportedly an angel appeared to protect her. Those gathered for the wedding were singing pagan songs, but St. Cecilia later reported that she “heard heavenly singing in her heart to God.”
Her husband, Valerian, came to her on their wedding night. She told him about her vows, that she was protected by an angel of God, and that he could not touch her. He demanded to see this angel. It is reported that St. Cecilia told him that if he was to be baptized, then he would see the angel. So Valerian went and was baptized by Pope Urban (223-230), and apparently had a full conversion once he saw the angel. The angel crowned St. Cecilia and St. Valerian with crowns of martyrdom. St. Valerian also converted his brother Tiburtius. Together, they began a ministry of ensuring that Christians who were martyred received a Christian burial. Both of the brothers were martyred.
Officials wanted to have St. Cecilia put to death also. It is reported that she was ordered to be killed by steaming her to death in her bath. All the while, she sang God’s praises, and did not succumb to the steam. Since she did not die from the steam, the officials ordered that her head be cut off. Three mighty blows from a sword caused her to bleed profusely; they could not cut off her head. As she lay dying, she continued to teach those who would hear about faith and to convert others. She made arrangements to provide for the poor. And she established a church in her home and arranged to have it preserved in the event of her death. She lived for three days, refusing to die until she received the sacrament of communion. Those family and others who gathered to be near her at her death knew she would be a saint. It is reported that many traveled just to collect and to soak up the blood that was flowing from her with cloths and sponges.
Some years later, her incorruptible body was found. The way in which her hands were found, one had two fingers pointing, and the other one, demonstrated her belief in the trinity.
An order of consecrated women, the Sister of St. Cecilia, are the ones who use special wool from lambs that are raised by Cistercian Trappist Fathers of the Tre Fontane (Three Fountains) Abbey in Rome to make a special garment, the pallia, for new metropolitan bishops. The pallia are given by the Pope to the new metropolitan archbishops (like the Archbishop of Boston) on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29, upon their appointment.