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Cecilia lived two hundred years after Christ. Trying to model her life according to His, she fasted and wore rough garments even though she was very rich. She loved the poor and gave them alms; she spent much of her time helping to bury the martyrs even at the risk of her own life.
Cecilia was a great friend of Pope Urban I, who taught her a great love for our beloved Lord. Before him she vowed her virginity to God and became a bride of Christ. Cecilia’s father having different plans for her, arranged for his daughter to marry Valerian, a pagan nobleman. She knew she had no way to oppose her father’s wishes, and so she put her trust in God and married Valerian. After the ceremony Cecilia told Valerian that an angel guarded her and that he must only love her as a sister. When he asked to see the angel, she told him his wish would be granted only if he was baptized. Like Cecilia he was instructed and baptized by Pope Urban I; then he saw Cecilia’s angel. A short time after the conversion of Valerian, his brother Tiburtius, also became a Christian. Both of them were marked for martyrdom and soon they were cast into prison. Their courage was so great in the face of death that they converted Maximus – the man about to execute them.
Knowing her time was next, Cecilia gave most of her possessions to the poor and the rest to her trusted friend, Gordianus, with directions for converting her home into a church. Soon she was captured and ordered to offer incense to Jupiter. Having refused, she was ordered to be suffocated. After this failed the pagan Prefect ordered her head to be chopped off. This failed to kill her because the executioner fumbled. Three blows – the number of blows allowed by law – had not severed her head from her body. She lived for three days in agony and after her death was placed besides Valerian in the cemetery of Calixtus.
In the ninth century Pope Paschal had her body removed to the church which had been made from her home – now called the Basilica of Saint Cecilia. In 1599 excavators, while making repairs under the direction of Cardinal Sfondrati in that church, found the body incorrupt and lying in the position in which she had died, her head partly severed from her body.
This celestial singer is pictured with a musical instrument which is symbolic of her joyous praise of the Creator. Because she so ardently sang praises of God in her heart, she is known as the patron of musicians. By her heroic life and death Heaven won another red-robed martyr crowned with the lilies of purity to sing forever before the throne of God.