St Cecelia….who was she?

Statue of St Cecilia

Statue of St Cecilia

You just have to look around at the names of Choirs, Churches, Music Festivals etc to note how often the name of the Patron Saint of music appears. We also have a Saint’s Day on her behalf (22 November), when we like to revel in music, ……but who was Cecilia and what were her credentials to have achieved this level of fame?

Was she a figment of imagination, did she inspire some great piece of music, did she sing, did she play any instruments… fact had she anything to do with music?

It appears that she was indeed a real married person, but It seems that her life and any so-called connection with music are long separated in time. She was martyred about 176 AD in Sicily. She was to be decapitated, but the executioner failed to succed after three attempts and fled. She survived for three days before succumbing!

Her body was later transferred to the Church of St. Cecilia in Trastavere in Rome, built in the 4th Century, over the alleged place where she was killed. The body was examined and a statue (shown above) was created by Stefano Maderno.

It was said that she sang to God during her martyrdom, and there are vague legends about attracting an angel to earth by this wonderful singing. But there are no references to this before the 12th century, and artists started introducing instruments into their paintings at the end of the 13th century. Someone even suggested she was the inventor of the organ!

Music Festivals have been held in her ‘honour’ since 1570, and various great composers such as Purcell, Britten, Howells, Handel, Parry and others have celebrated her life in music. Edinburgh also keeps the name alive in the St Cecilia Hall……….and all with little foundation! 

But who else could we use as our Patron Saint?

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