St. Cecilia was born in the second century and was martyred in the third. She was not canonized, but was proclaimed a saint by early Christians for her martyrdom. She is regarded as the patroness of music and is often depicted at an organ or carrying organ-pipes in her hand. Her feast day is November 22.
St. Cecilia’s story glorifies virginal life; she came from a rich family and was given in marriage to a young man named Valerian. She fasted and invoked the saints, angels, and virgins to guard her virginity.
During her wedding, she was said to have sung in her heart to God and before the consummation of her marriage, she told Valerian she had taken a vow of virginity and had an angel protecting her. Valerian asked to see the angel as evidence and Cecilia told him to travel to the third milestone on the Via Appia and be baptized by Pope Urbanus.
Following his baptism, Valerian returned to his wife and found an angel at her side. The angel crowned his wife with a chaplet of rose and lily and when Valerian’s brother heard the tale, he was also baptized and the brothers spent the rest of their lives burying saints who were murdered daily by the prefect Turcius Almachius.
As her husband buried the dead, St. Cecilia preached and converted over four hundred people until she was arrested and sentenced to death. She was to be suffocated in the baths and was shut in for one night and one day as fires were stoked to an unbearable heat -but Cecilia did not shed a single drop of sweat.
When Almachius heard this, he sent an executioner to behead her in the baths, but after striking her three times, he was unable to decapitate her, so he abandoned her. She lived for three days there, preaching and praying all the while before succumbing to her wounds.
In 1599, officials exhumed her body and found it incorrupt, adorned in a gold embroidered dress, draped in a silk veil, and they reported a “mysterious and delightful flower-like odor.” She is known to be the first incorrupt saint.