Betrothed to an angel

St Cecilia is the patron saint of music, but it is difficult to be sure of anything else about her. Tradition links Cecilia with Urban I, pope from 222 to 230. The first record of her name, though, occurs in a 4th-century catalogue of martyrs; and not until the 5th century is there any account of her.

Cecilia then appears as a Roman aristocrat, Christian from infancy, but married off to a noble pagan called Valerianus. On her wedding night, Cecilia explained that she was betrothed to an angel jealous of her virginity. When Valerianus demanded to see this angel, he was dispatched to a priest (Pope Urban?) and duly baptised. Various chaste good works ensued, until the edifying history ends with the prolonged martyrdom of the happy couple. Around the year 817, Pope Paschal I transferred Cecilia’s supposed remains to Santa Cecilia in the Trastevere district of Rome.

Mentioned by Chaucer

Although her cult waxed strongly in the Middle Ages – she is mentioned by Chaucer – it was not until the 15th century that she became strongly associated with music, possibly through misinterpretation of a Latin text which describes her before her wedding “singing in her heart to God alone” to protect her virginity.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection