II Maccabees 7.1,20-31; Psalm 16; Luke 19.11-28
Cecilia was a young noblewoman of 3rd Century Rome. Apparently her parents insisted on her being wed to a pagan nobleman named Valerian, though she had taken a vow of virginity and had pledged herself to the service of God. During the wedding, whilst musicians were playing festive music, Cecilia, it was said, ‘sang in her heart to God.’ When it came time to consummate the marriage, Cecilia told Valerian that an angel would strike him down if he attempted to violate her virginity; she directed Valerian to go along the Via Appia where he would encounter Pope Urban I who would baptise him. Valerian complied with her instruction, but soon afterwards he and Cecilia were arrested and sentenced to death for their Christian faith. As she was dying Cecilia asked the Pope to convert her home, in the Trastevere, into a Church. She is commemorated in the Roman Canon, an indication of the antiquity of her cult. She came to be regarded as the patron saint of musicians.
In late 17th Century and 18th Century England St Cecilia’s day became a significant celebration of music, inspiring lengthy odes by the premier poets of the day, including John Dryden and Alexander Pope, set to music by composers of the stature of George Frideric Handel and Henry Purcell. The 20th Century poet W.H. Auden (1903-73) in his ‘Hymn to St Cecilia’ prayed ‘Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions to all musicians: appear and inspire!’