Feast Day of St. Cecilia, patron of music

This is the feast day of the early Christian saint Cecilia.

There’s more than serendipity in that name’s pop culture connection: Cecilia is the patron saint of music for the rather slight reason that her heart sung only for God even when she was forced to marry the pagan Valerian. Seriously, Christianity didn’t have any early martyr with a stronger biographical context for a portfolio as significant as music?*

Being the go-to divine intermediary for something this big made Cece a popular saint centuries after her martyrdom, supposed to be either later in the 2nd century or early in the 3rd. (As with many other martyrs’ legends, Cecilia survives several executions before the Romans finally manage to cut her head off.)

Musician and songwriter Paul Simon knew enough St. Cecilia lore to explicitly use her in her musical-patronage role in a different song, “The Coast” (lyrics). The song “Cecilia” deepens immensely if it’s understood as mixed frustration and exaltation with the minstrel’s inconstant artistic muse.

Nor would that be the only 20th century musical homage for this accessible saint. In a more traditional vein, Benjamin Britten set to music a W.H. Auden poem about Cecilia, creating the Hymn to St. Cecilia.

Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions
To all musicians, appear and inspire:
Translated Daughter, come down and startle
Composing mortals with immortal fire.

Fans of classical music should hit YouTube for Handel’s Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, which appropriately premiered on this date in 1739. Here’s a nibble:

* So far as we know, blogging remains a niche of divine patronage as-yet unfilled. We propose to accept the protection of the patron saint of lost causes.

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