A Roman 3rd century martyr, a basilica was erected in her honour in the 5th century. According to legend, she was a noble Christian betrothed to a pagan, Valerian. She had already vowed her virginity to God, and refused to consummate her marriage. Both her husband and his brother, who had become Christians, were arrested and martyred, and soon after, when Cecilia refused to sacrifice (and converted her persecutors) she was sentenced to death by suffocation in her bedroom. This plan failed, and a soldier was sent to behead her. Three blows failed to kill her, and she survived, half-dead, for three days. Her relics were translated by Pope Paschal to her church in 280 and when her tomb was opened in 1599, her body was found to be incorrupt, but then quickly disintegrated through contact with the air. A life-size replica statue of her “lying on the right side, as a maiden in her bed, her knees drawn together and seeming to be asleep” occupies the supposed original tomb in the cemetery of St. Callistus. The patron saint of music.
Picture: John William Waterhouse – Saint Cecilia, 1895: “In a clear walled city on the sea. Near gilded organ pipes – slept St. Cecily”