Thursday, November 22, 2012

Saint of the Month: St. Cecilia!

St. Cecilia
Jacque Stella, 1596-1657
Tournament non-participant.

AKA: St. Cicilia
Feast Day: November 22.

Really Existed? Based on my superficial secondary research, I am not convinced.
Timeframe: Possibly the third century.
Place: Rome

Credentials: By tradition, unambiguously, in both Catholic and Orthodox hagiographies.
Martyrdom: According to legend, from injuries inflicted in a failed suffocation followed by a failed decapitation.

Patron Saint of: musicians, composers, poets, luthiers, singers, Omaha.
Symbolism: The organ, or other musical instruments.

Happy St. Cecilia’s Day! This would be a good moment to break out your old Handel records!

St. Cecilia is one of the mid-major saints, and as such gets a good write-up in the stodgy but very scholarly Catholic Encyclopedia. We learn there that her story comes from writings of the 400s, and goes like this:
Cecilia, a virgin of a senatorial family and a Christian from her infancy, was given in marriage by her parents to a noble pagan youth, Valerianus. When, after the celebration of the marriage, the couple had retired to the wedding-chamber, Cecilia told Valerianus that she was betrothed to an angel who jealously guarded her body; therefore Valerianus must take care not to violate her virginity. Valerianus wished to see the angel, whereupon Cecilia sent him to the third milestone on the Via Appia where he should meet Bishop (Pope) Urbanus. Valerianus obeyed, was baptized by the pope, and returned a Christian to Cecilia. An angel then appeared to the two and crowned them with roses and lilies.
This is of course a pretty awesome story, and it is a shame that this kind of thing doesn't happen more in day-to-day life. As the tale continues, though, St. Cecilia runs afoul of the local authorities – in one version they are alarmed by her rapid conversion of 400 new Christians – and they condemn her to be suffocated in her own overheated sauna. When this doesn't work, her executioner is told to behead her. Apparently unfamiliar with this part of his job, the executioner gives up in a panic after three tries – it generally takes, I have read, quite a bit more chopping than you'd think if you don't have a skilled professional headsman – and poor Cecilia lingers on for three more days, spending the time in revising her will in favor of the poor and the religious.

Guido Reni, 1575-1642.
Expected Tournament debut Summer 2015
The execution is certainly a comedown from the roses-and-lilies part of the story, but that's probably to be expected in a tale of an early Christian martyr. The Catholic Encyclopedia adds a little more buzzkill, stating frankly that “In this shape the whole story has no historical value; it is a pious romance….” Citing numerous fragmentary bits and bobs of early Christian documentation, however, the Encyclopedia asserts that the existence of St. Cecilia is “historical fact,” although the only specific information that it is willing to vouch for is that she probably died in the middle or late third century. Other sober sources suggest that Cecilia was probably the founder of an early Christian church in Rome, but it’s hard to say when or if she was actually martyred for doing so. If she coexisted with Pope Urban, as the original story maintains, than the timing wouldn't have been right for her to face persecution from Roman authorities. Others serious sources, meanwhile, note that St. Cecilia appears rather abruptly in the fifth century lists of martyrs but is missing from similar lists from the fourth century, and ask pointedly why she showed up so late for the party.

There seem to be any number of stories about the recovery of St. Cecilia’s relics in the ninth century. Accounts all involve the excavation of a disused church, but vary widely as to whether a Pope had a prophetic dream, which Pope was involved, whether or not Cecilia’s body was perfectly intact when found (or when re-exhumed in 1599), and whether those who witnessed her body were blessed by miracles.

St. Cecilia is the patron of music, so even if you don’t have any old Handel records this would be a good day to listen to some tunes. The connection – I am leaning on the Catholic Encyclopedia again here – apparently went like this. First, a poetic tradition based on her myth introduced the idea that while the musicians at her wedding played pagan music, she sang in her heart only to God. In the medieval period, artists got confused with the translation of this phrase and started depicted her playing the organ. When the Academy of Music was founded in Rome in the 16th century, she was picked out as the patron, and her association with music and musicians was secure.

 Her “ordinary attribute” in the artistic tradition is an organ.  One commenter points out that since the only organ-like instruments in Rome were generally associated with the low-life of the circus and other pagan spectacles, “she would have been more likely to trample such an instrument underfoot than to play it.” Well, irony’s cheap. I like to think that a saint with music in her portfolio would make it her business to cultivate an inclusive love of the many genres, varieties, and scenes in which sonic art occurs.

Antiveduto Grammatica, 1571-1626
Tournament non-participant.

John William Waterhouse, 1849-1917
Expected Tournament debut Fall/Winter 2016

Max Ernst, 1891-1976.
Expected Tournament debut Early Spring 2013

Nicholas Poussin, 1594-1665
Expected Tournament debut Summer 2015

1 comment:

Michael5000 said...

Also, Happy Thanksgiving (USA)!