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Santa Cecilia

Today we travel across the Tiber into the Trastevere neighborhood to visit the church of Santa Cecilia.

At sixteen, Cecilia, a Christian, vowed to remain forever a virgin. Her father, however, had different plans and arranged for her to wed Valerian, a pagan nobleman. She broke the news to her groom on the wedding night. At first, understandably frustrated, he eventually came to share her love for Christ. Not long after his conversion, in the year 230, he was martyred. She too was soon condemned to death for her faith.

Cecilia was sentenced to die by suffocation. She was locked in the baths of her own house and expected to die from the steam. When the executioners opened the doors, she was still very much alive. They then attempted to behead her. After three chops with the axe, she was still alive. Word spread throughout the city and for the next three days people came from all over to see her. As she lie on the floor dying, she preached the Gospel and sang hymns, helping to give her the title of patron saint of musicians. Pope Urban came to visit her on the third day. She gave him her house for worship and then died.

Her house was dedicated as Titulus Ceciliae, and is one of the original twenty-five parish churches of Rome. A small sanctuary was built over the site of her death. At her request, she was buried in the San Callisto Catacombs.

Nearly six hundred years past until Pope Paschal set out to find her tomb and transfer her remains to this church. The catacombs were being abandoned and he was working to transfer the bodies into the churches of Rome. He was having trouble finding Saint Cecilia and it wasn’t until her location appeared to him in a dream that he was able to recover her body. When he located her tomb, he found that her body was still intact. He brought her back into Rome and buried her in the new church he had built over her home.

In 1599 her tomb was opened once again, she was still incorrupt. The sculptor Stefano Maderno was commissioned to sculpt in marble what God had preserved. Under the main altar is the beautiful sculpture of Saint Cecilia. Lying on her side, she has her head turned back displaying the gash in her neck, her right hand holding up three fingers, her left hand one. Even from the grave she is preaching to us. She’s telling us ‘three persons, one God’. An inscription on the floor from the artist tells us this is exactly as she looked when he saw her.

In the apse is a mosaic commissioned by Pope Paschal. It depicts the Pope holding a model of the church he just built. As we saw inside Santa Maria in Domnica, the pope has a blue square halo indicating that he was alive during the creation of this mosaic.

The relics of Saint Cecilia, her husband, Saint Valerian, his brother, Saint Tiburtius, Saint Maximus, Pope Saint Lucius and Pope Saint Urban and all here at Santa Cecilia.

You should buy my dad’s Lenten song, 40 Days.

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