Project Description

Following a chance meeting only a few days early, the Hof-Musici and – the not yet conceived – Cultura Profonda collaborated first during Easter 2019 on this production of “Santa Cecilia” – the New World Premiere of Draghi’s beautiful Oratorium.

THE LEGEND OF SAINT CECILIA

Cecilia is an early Christian martyr who lived in the 3rd century and has been worshiped as a saint from the 5th century. The oldest surviving source describing her life is the Passio Sanctae Caeciliae contained in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum from the 5th century. Her feast day is celebrated on November 22.

According to legend, Cecilia came from a noble Roman family of Caecilians, and from her childhood she had a very strong relationship with Christ. Her parents, however, married her off to Valerian, who was a pagan.

On her wedding night, Cecilia allegedly told Valerian that an Angel was standing by her as a protector of her purity, which she had committed to Christ. Valerian replied that he would undertake a promise of restraint when he could see the Angel as well. Cecilia then sent him to Pope Urban I, who converted and baptized him.

When Valerian returned to Cecilia as a new convert, he finally saw the Angel, who gave both of them a wreath woven from lilies and roses from Paradise. Valerian also managed to turn his brother Tiburtius to the faith. Together, they buried Christians sentenced to death, for which they themselves were condemned to death.

After both brothers were executed, the Roman prefect Almachius brought Cecilia to trial for attempting to bury both men. When she refused to make a sacrifice to idols, she was sentenced to a boiling bath, which he survived. Even after the executioner made three attempts to cut off her head, Cecilia lived for three more days during which she gave her property to the poor and convert the locals to the faith. Cecilia was buried next to the bishops in the Catacomb of St. Callixtus. Pope Urban I consecrated her house into a church.

Cecilia is generally known as the patron of music and musicians, even though music does not appear in any way in her legend, nor does it say anything about Cecilia having a relationship with it. Cecilia’s association with music is based on an inaccurate translation of the legend, namely one sentence from the third chapter:

“Venit dies in quo thalamus collocatus est et, cantantibus organis, illa in corde suo soli Domino decantabat, dicens: Fiat cor meum et corpus meum immaculatum ut non confundar.”
(“The wedding day arrived, and to the sound of musical instruments she sang in her heart only to her Lord, saying: Let my heart and my body remain undefiled, that I may not be disgraced.”)

The meaning of this sentence is that during Cecilia’s wedding, musical instruments were heard, from which Cecilia turned away to “sing in her heart to the Lord”. The expression “singing in her heart” is not used merely in this legend. It appears in Paul’s Epistle to Ephesians 5.19, in Jewish-Alexandrianism and New-Platonic philosophy, in the Fathers, and throughout the entire Middle Ages.

It does not signify singing specifically, but rather a spiritual act, a prayer. In the legend, Cecilia also sings “sed core, non voce” (“but in my heart, not in my voice”). Her behavior is an example of inner prayer, and a relationship to music is not even implied here.

The worship of St. Cecilia as a patron of music is proven since the 15th century. The word “organis” in the above Latin sentence could have been understood in the 15th century as an actual organ, while at the time the legend emerged, it meant musical instruments in general. Thus, the term “cantantibus organis” was interpreted to mean that Cecilia was singing and playing the organ. This was enough for this musical instrument to be attributed to her.

The evolution of St. Cecilia to patron of music is clearly documented and reflected in iconographic sources. In the 6th century, Cecilia is commonly depicted only with a martyr’s crown, in the 11th century a cross appears with the crown, and by the 14th century Cecilia has a palm branch and a sword, sometimes even a wreath of heavenly flowers. The attribute of the musical instrument, most often a portative organ, is documented by iconographic sources from the 15th century.

Anna Czerninová