Posts Tagged ‘St. Cecilia’

Misery Chord

Posted in General, On This Day on November 21st, 2014 by Eugene Finerman – 3 Comments

November 22nd:  St. Cecilia’s Day

St Cecilia's jukeboxOn this day in either A.D. 170 or 223 St. Cecilia died; even the Church can’t keep track of all its virgin martyrs. However, St. Cecilia’s death should have been memorable. She died three days after her decapitation. The patron saint of music evidently had mastered breath control. (A Wagnerian soprano might last two weeks after a decapitation.) And Cecilia really gave a farewell performance, spending much of her last three days in song. You or I might use our miraculous powers to regenerate a neck, but that is why we are not saints.

If Cecilia was a virgin martyr, at the very least her husband was a saint, too. His name was Valerian. On their wedding night, Cecilia told him that she had a wonderful surprise for him if he converted to Christianity. The young patrician promptly did, and an angel then appeared to explain the bliss of chastity. Valerian apparently never convinced Cecilia of the need for charity. The Church records Valerian as a saint and martyr–but not as a virgin. There may be limits to what you can ask of an Italian man.

Cecilia turned their home into a church and that certainly violated Roman zoning ordinances. Of course, the law blamed Valerian; the husband is supposed to be responsible. When Valerian refused to make a sacrifice to the Gods, he became the sacrifice. The matter might have ended there. Roman authorities were not really interested in prosecuting aristocratic women for their religious eccentricities. In fact, the government regarded Christianity as a females’ religion; good works and virtue were perfectly compatible with a woman’s domestic role in Roman society. The danger of Christianity was if the men became less bloodthirsty or if the slaves demanded justice.

But Cecilia would not let herself be ignored. She continued to preach and sing. In planning her execution, the authorities first showed her the consideration due an aristocratic lady. Being sealed in a steam bath was said to be painless and therapeutic; you suffocated while enjoying all the benefits of a facial. (This particular form of execution was even considered Christian; the Emperor Constantine applied it to an unfaithful wife. It only fell out of use when bathing did in the sixth century.) However, as seems to be the rule with all of these martyrdoms, the first attempt always fails. Cecilia survived the steam treatment, and Romans then tried decapitation. That eventually worked.

You now may see St. Cecilia’s head in Rome, Italy. Unfortunately, it no longer takes musical requests.