Saturday, September 28, 2013

for Santa Cecilia, patron of music

I've been reading about the saints. What a terrible time they had. The persecution of women - or indeed girls as many of them were aged 12 to 17 - was full of hatred for women's independence of thought and action. Cecilia was forced into marriage, first they tried to kill her by suffocating her in steam – in a sudatorium. This failed and she was beheaded, but her head was not fully severed and so she lay for three days dying. Another version says that she kept singing after her head was severed. She is the patron saint of music and of musicians; a kind of Orpheus figure.

for Santa Cecilia

the organist plays a dirge
hands flying

under the apse
a pure white marble body
lying her hands bound    head wrapped
face down    as if crying

she sings through her dead mouth
the earth hears her long dying song
above golden angels spiral
and my heart weeps for this young girl

The church of Santa Cecilia is in Trastevere. It was first built in 5th century. She is killed because she kept converting people to Christianity, including her husband and as a result the marriage was not consummated. It strikes me that she and other saints are wilful virgins. Her husband, Valerianus, was martyred too. 
 For more on Santa Cecilia, Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, in her Italian Days (1989) writes about her (pp. 248-249).
Photos on this page from the top:
Statue of St Cecilia in the portico of the church of Santa Cecilia.
Gold figure of St Cecilia under the apse. Note her harp.
St Cecilia tied and bound.
The balduchin and apse of the church of St Cecilia.
St Cecilia(?) praying.
St Cecilia fresco depicting her being bound (sorry about quality).
All photos by me.


  1. I chose Cecilia as my confirmation name around the age of 12. I lost my belief in religion, but later, when I took up art as a serious matter, I began to use her name, for the courage.

  2. Cecilia's story is extraordinary. I can't stop thinking about what these young women were up against.