St Cecilia, Virgin & Martyr – 22 Nov
Devotion to St Cecilia, in whose honour a basilica was constructed in Rome in the fifth century, has spread far and wide because of the Passion of Saint Cecilia, which holds her up as a perfect example of a Christian woman, who embraced virginity and suffered martyrdom for the love of Christ.
As with early martyrs, nothing much is known about Cecilia except her existence and her name; with the additional complication that so many stories have grown up round her that any remaining historical facts are obscured. No-one knows quite why she should suddenly have become popular in the middle of the sixth century, some 200 years after her death, and her association with music is also a mystery. It may be real, or it may come from the description in the Passion of Cecilia singing to God “in her heart” while the musicians were playing on her wedding day, or it may come from a linguistic confusion: where the Passion describes her being stifled to death candentibus organis, “with the pipes glowing red-hot,” this could have been misread as cantantibus organis, “with the organ playing.”