St. Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr, and Her Basilica in Rome

With it being the feast of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music and musicians no less, it seemed an apropos day to take a look at her shrine church in Rome, the beautiful basilica of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere. Along with San Paolo fuori le mura, it has, in my estimation, one of the most beautiful forecourts in all of Rome.

But first a little bit about St. Cecilia herself. She is one the very most popular of Roman saints -- by which I mean amongst the Romans -- as well as more broadly. In fact, she is one of the female saints mentioned by name in the Roman Canon. Her date of birth and death are not precisely known, but  are placed in the early part of the third century, somewhere between the years A.D. 200 - 235. 

As her story goes she was married off by her parents to a non-Christian Roman nobleman despite her having taken a vow of virginity. Ultimately he would be baptized, and likewise martyred, followed by Cecilia who is said to have been struck in the neck three times.  When she finally succumbed to her injuries her body was laid to rest in the catacomb of Callixtus.  Pope Paschal I would, in the ninth century, have her relics translated from the catacomb to this place. Much of the Paschalian basilica was redecorated in the early 1700's, but the original ninth century apsidal mosaics from the time of Paschal can yet be seen:

The ciborium over the main altar also predates the baroque renovations, being designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, dating to the twelfth century. 

Today the basilica looks as follows:

For those interested, the following is a reconstruction of the more medieval form of the basilica which had a classical basilica arrangement. One will see that the earlier mosaics situated outside the apse on the triumphal arch were regrettably lost -- perhaps due to deterioration as opposed to mere destruction.  (Regrettably, in the later renovations, the original cosmatesque floors were also lost.)

Beneath the high altar, located at the level of the nave, is a sculpture of St. Cecilica dated to 1600. It is said that the sculpture is a depiction of the body of St. Cecilia as it was discovered positioned when her tomb was opened in 1599. 

About this, we are told that during restorations that were being made on the basilica's interior in 1599 in preparation for the jubilee year of 1600, the cardinal of the title, along with several other witnesses, had the tomb of St. Cecilia opened and it is said that St. Cecilia's remains had been found incorrupt inside the marble tomb, laid within a chest of cypress wood. The saint herself was dressed in white with a gold embroidered shroud covering her face; the marks were apparently still clearly visible on her neck.  Pope Clement VIII, the pope of the time, delegated to Cesare Cardinal Baronius the task of overseeing an exposition of her relics. 

It is worth noting that a copy of this same statue has been placed in the catacomb of Callixtus where her remains were found by Paschal:

In addition to the church proper, it is worth noting that excavations were undertaken in the early 20th century and these revealed the remains of republican and imperial era Roman houses and apartments. 

A pagan statue to Minerva surrounded by Dionysian scenes

Various sarcophagi were also discovered. Here is a rather interesting one with a very detailed portrayal of a Roman banquet and wild board hunt.

Of course, our reason for showing you this is to both show you the historical context and reality upon which this basilica is built, as well as the general context from which Saint Cecilia herself came from within. This would have been the culture around her. 

Of more specific Christian interest in the excavations was the discovery of the remains of the fifth century baptistery:

This baptistery is the only remnant we presently have of the earlier church with the present structure essentially dating to the time of Pope Paschal I in the ninth century, subject then to additions and renovations through the medieval and baroque periods.

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