[Cecelia] Martyr of Rome, ca. 280

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, and then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.


About the Commemoration

Cecilia is the patron saint of singers, organ builders, musicians and poets. She is venerated as a martyr. Many of the details of her life are unknown and much of what we do know comes from later periods. She is among the women named in the Roman Canon of the Mass. According to fifth century sources, Cecilia was of noble birth and was betrothed to a pagan who bore the name Valerian. Cecilia’s witness resulted in the conversion of Valerian and his brother, Tiburtius. Because of their conversion, the brothers were martyred and while Cecilia was burying them, she too was arrested. After several failed attempts to put her to death, she died from injuries sustained by the ordeal. The date of her martyrdom is generally believed to be 230 during the Roman persecution of Christians under Alexander Severus, although some scholars have dated it earlier.

Remembered for the passion with which she sang the praises of God, Cecilia is first depicted in Christian art as a martyr, but since the fourteenth century she is often shown playing the organ, a theme picked up my Raphael in his famous altarpiece for San Giovanniin- Monte, Bologna, painted around 1516. Her story has inspired centuries of artistic representations in paintings, sculptures, mosaics, and stained glass. Composers such as Handel, Purcell, Howells, and Britten have written choral works and mass settings in her honor. Many music schools, choral societies, and concert series bear her name.

In the ninth century, during the pontificate of Pope Paschal I, the remains of Cecilia were uncovered in the catacombs of Callixtus. On orders from the pope, the sarcophagus containing her remains was transferred to the new basilica in the Trastevere region of Rome. Built on what was believed to be the site of Cecilia’s home, a church named in her honor had existed on the site since at least the fifth century, and perhaps as early as the late third century, one of the original churches of the City of Rome.


i Most gracious God, whose blessed martyr Cecilia didst sing in her heart to strengthen her witness to thee: We thank thee for the makers of music whom thou hast gifted with Pentecostal fire; and we pray that we may join with them in creation’s song of praise until at the last, with Cecelia and all thy saints, we come to share in the song of those redeemed by our Savior Jesus Christ; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

ii Most gracious God, whose blessed martyr Cecilia sang in her heart to strengthen her witness to you: We give you thanks for the makers of music whom you have gifted with Pentecostal fire; and we pray that we may join with them in creation’s song of praise until at the last, with Cecelia and all your saints, we come to share in the song of those redeemed by our Savior Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Psalm 150


Azariah 1:28–34,52–59,68

Revelation 15:1–4

Luke 10:38–42

Preface of All Saints



16 thoughts on “[Cecelia] Martyr of Rome, ca. 280

  1. The title of the commemoration says Cecelia’s date is c. 280 while the text says 230 or earlier. Is one of the dates a typo?

    • It’s in the Old Testament Apocrypha. In the NRSV it has the fuller title “The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews.” It is from the Greek version of the Book of Daniel, not found in the Hebrew book; inserted in chapter 3, as part of the story of the fiery furnace.

    • Eric — “Azariah” (“The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews”) is printed with the Apocryphal/ Deuterocanonical Books. Many Bibles are published without these works and your title page would specifically indicate the fact if your Bible does contain this section. In “The New Oxford Annotated Bible With the Apocrypha — New Revised Standard Veresion,” Azariah begins on page 175-AP (it numbers Old Testament works with the suffix “-OT”, New Testament works with the suffix “-NT” and the “#-AP” pages are between the two). The introduction (see page 174-AP) explains that the 68 verses that constitute this work, “consists of three parts: the prayer of Azariah, in verses. 1-22; a short report in prose on the welfare of the three Jews in the furnace, in verses. 23-27; and a long hymn sung by the three, untouched while the flames danced around them, in verses. 28-68..” On page 173-AP the explanation, “The Additions to the Greek Book of Daniel” explains, “…the ancient Greek version of the Book of Daniel is considerably longer than the surviving Hebrew text.” It goes on to explain that they insert “The Prayer of Azarias and the Song of the Three Jews in Dan ch 3.” A bit later it goes on to say these “appear quite logically after Dan 3.23….” The BCP, p. 88 and following, includes verses 35-65 (part of this material) as Canticle 12. Our commemoration calls for verses 28–34,52–59,68. (There is no “chapter two” so its specifying “chapter one” is not important.) You’ve probably found all this out by now, but I hope this fills in any remaining gaps.

  2. Having to choose between CS Lewis and Cecilia for November 22nd is something that we should avoid. It just points out the difficulty of commemorating two persons on the same day. Is this the right decision for the calendar?

    Hebrew reading: Canticle 12, Book of Common Prayer 1979, page 88, identifies this Book as ‘Song of Three Young Men.’ NRSV entitles this book as ‘The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews’. Which should we use? I suggest the Book of Common Prayer 1979’s title to be consistent with it.
    NT reading: This is Canticle 19, again. Is anyone counting how many times this Canticle is used as a reading?
    Gospel: Mary and Martha. Does this fit for Cecelia? I don’t think so. When this reading was dropped from Mary and Martha of Bethany (Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2006 Gospel), I thought it was gone, but here it is again.

    • PS – I cringe when two good offerings occupy the same day. In devotional use, public or private, I’d feel compelled to use only one. Beyond that, what’s next — three a day, then Years 1 and 2; or years A, B and C — maybe with Track 1 and Track 2?

  3. I know this is the traditonal day, but sh and C.s. Lewis do not make a viable pair of celebrations. (She’d be better with the church musicians on the 21.

  4. This collect is splendid. With a few small adjustments it could easily serve for other, related but less adequate, occasions.

  5. Wild idea for the Standing Commision: when we and you have gotten everything shaken down just right, consider having a web version with not only downloadable pictures, but also links to music or tastes of music appropriate to the person. Not all will have music – can’t really think of music for Alfred the Great, for example. But Cecelia? And not just church musicians – those whose words were adapted for hymns, those whose world we could better understand with music [American shape note tradition, anyone?]. The web versions could also have brief but comprehensive bibliographies. Isn’t it fun when someone who will not be doing the work suggest more work for you?

  6. Although the celebration on St. Cecilia on November 22nd is “traditional”, she is a new addition to the Episcopal calendar. She is the beloved saint of church musicians and organists and many of us who love the long tradition of Anglican church music. Apparently she is known from the Martyrology of Jerome. Most of the information about her life is fanciful. Her commemoration fails on one of the requirements for inclusion in the liturgical calendar. That requirement is historicity. What we know of Cecilia is legend! St. Cecilia poses the same problem as St. Anne. Should the Episcopal church be adding saints for which there is minimal or no documented evidence? I think not. The Episcopal Church has never considered tradition alone as sufficient.

    • To borrow Gibbon’s line again, some indulgence must be granted to a fable which has inspired the chisel of Maderno, the brush of Raphael, and the pens of Chaucer and Dryden. Besides, she’s not being added to the calendar, she’s being restored to it.
      As the church’s primary feast of music, her “lack of historicity” is actually an advantage, as musicians of every style and genre can claim her for their own. They can’t do that with Bach or Tallis or Wesley.

      • Sorry — I hit “post” too soon.
        Cecilia’s martyrdom is as historical as any. We just don’t have a reliable account of the date and circumstances. If you’re going to drop her on historical grounds, you’d have to drop Anne, Lucy, George, and Agnes, too. Not to mention the apostles who are known to us by name only. The details of their lives and martyrdoms are at least as sketchy as Cecilia’s.

  7. We can’t know the date of her birth, but it would be helpful to be given an estimate, such as: “Born about 200….”.

    Line 2, third paragraph: substitute a period for the comma after “martyr”. Delete the word “but”, and begin a new sentence, to break up this sentence of over 50 words.

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