Thursday, December 17, 2009


She appears in the oldest historical Acts of Saints, the Martyrologium Hieronymianum. Her feast day is celebrated on the 22nd of November, a particularly bloody day in the Roman calendar. Commodus, the malevolent son of Marcus Aurelius is supposed to have ordered her death along with that of her brother, brother in law, and husband (in name only)

Cecilia's family formed part of Roman nobility. Indeed, her father served the Senate as a Patrician Senator illustriously. In infancy, her Father gave her in marriage to a noble pagan youth,Valerianus. When the time came for the marriage to be consummated, Cecilia revealed her Christian affiliations to her husband and explained that she wished to remain a Virgin. Valearianus not only consented to this difficult request; Cecilia was one of the most wondrous beauties of Rome, he converted to Christianity. All this was done in secrecy as Christians still continued to be persecuted by some Roman Emperors.

N. B. Marcus Aurelius,  the Philosopher-Emperor, known for his tolerance of all creeds and beliefs; his book THE MEDITATIONS is one of the literary, philosophical, spiritual and sublime works written during mankind's often ignominious history, taxes my credibility as the Persecutor of the lovely, talented and pure Cecilia. Historians concur in the main that Marcus Aurelius did not as a rule persecute and slaughter Christians.

Commodus, his son and successor was an entirely different sort of man. So much for genes! He was a gratuitously cruel creature. He was not only a murderer and a pedophile who abused and tortured children, he is reputed to have raped his sister and thought himself enamored of her although she was married.

It was most probably during his reign when Cecilia was brutally murdered. Her brother, brother-in law and husband chose to die with her. The professional executioner, a giant of a man who beheaded the members of her family, for some reason was not tasked with killing Cecilia. The monster who carried out this horrendous order, struck her neck with an axe repeatedly as she lay in a pristine marble Roman tub.

Could it have been Commodus himself? We shall never know. He personally took part in gladiatorial games to the death in which he always emerged the victor. He was proud of his physical beauty and killing prowess. For such a man, murdering a young, defenseless virgin in her bath by severing her neck with an axe seems logical. But history is seldom logical. We just have no elements much as I would like to inculpate Commodus. However, it was an evil a man such as Commodus would not have thought twice to commit.

" She is still alive. I can't continue to kill her,"screamed her Perpetrator. He dropped his bloody axe dripping with Cecilia's blood and ran away. A behavioral scientist today would say that the Perpetrator abandoned the scene of the crime because he was ashamed of his botched up job. My personal theory is that the monster who struck at her neck with aaxe did so with malice and aforethought. He wanted her to suffer. That fits in perfectly with Commodus "forma mentis" as a sociopathic killer.

The members of her family and household who found her, assisted her, and placed a white linen sheet over her body covered in blood. They then gently removed her from the bath which had turned crimson and carried her slowly to her bed. Cecilia lived for three unspeakably agonizing days. She was conscious until the last. Her neck and vocal cords had been almost severed. She could not speak, nor even open her mouth to form any words. She dipped her forefinger into her own blood and made the sign of the cross on the palm of her hand.

Because she was a fine musician, sang and wrote poetry, she was considered even in her time a living Muse of Fine Arts and Poetry.

I often visited her first tomb, a crypt actually, which was on the Appia Antica in a catacomb attributed to Pope Calixtus. It lies on the third kilometer outside of Rome city proper.

The constant wave of Vandal, Longobard and Visigoth attacks and depredations on Christian and Roman tombs and crypts in Rome led the religious authorities to move her remains to the catacomb of the Bishop of Rome, Praetextatus, in the Church of  Trastevere. That is where she can be found today.

In a small side chapel, the remains of a Roman bath still exist. No one knows from whence it came. Could it have been the Saint's bath? Again, we don't know. I must admit that I find it odd in any case.

On November 22, the whole quarter of Trastevere commemorates her martyrdom at the Church. It fascinated me to see high ranking members of the PCI - Partito Communista Italiano, the former Communist Party of Italy attend the mass, receive communion together with their wives and children and sing the hymns with much devotion. Of course the members of the other parties such as the Socialist and the ruling Christian Democrats always showed en masse. When night fell, the people of Trastevere celebrated Saint Cecilia with bands and songs until dawn.

I once attended the Mass of Saint Cecilia with Federico Fellini.

"Ma, che fai Federi," I asked in a poor imitation of the Roman dialect. But what are you doing"

"Senti, la Santa e un esercizio sociologico e sprituale. Che donna! Forze non e mai esistita, ma non si sa mai. Ad ogni modo, tutte le leggende hanno qualcosa di vero," he replied.

'"Listen, attending these rituals is an exercise in something sociological and spiritual. What a woman! Perhaps she never existed, but one cannot deny it with certainty. In any case, all legends contain much truth in them."

The world famous Academy of Music at Saint Cecilia's in Rome  was founded in 1584 as homage to her. That same year she was officially declared Patron of Music. The marvelous Raffaele (Raphael) painted an enthralling Cecilia. It now hungs in the Museum of Fine Arts in Bologna, site of the oldest University in Europe.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this fascinating essay, cara Isabella. Forgive me for not writing more; my eyes cannot yet read well after surgery and on top of that I sliced the middle finger of my left hand cutting cheese for lunch today ... so writing is limited for now. But loved your piece.




Isabel Van Fechtmann

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