Saints of the Roman Canon: St Cecilia, November 22nd

Tomorrow is the commemoration of St Cecilia, one of the saints mentioned in the Roman Canon. Although martyred in the early years of the Church and devotion to her grew from that time in the 3rd century AD, the imagery of her that comes to mind most is baroque paintings that highlight her role as patron of sacred music.

Here is one painted by Simone Vouet in 1626. She is commonly associated with the pipe organ.

and another by Guido Reni of the same period shown with a stringed instrument rather than organ.

The form of the devotion that associates her with music is relatively recent. Earlier devotion will have focussed more on her matyrdom and her chastity. These aspects of her life were not ignored by later artists, as this famous baroque sculpture entitled the Martyrdom of St Cecilia shows. It is in the church in Rome which is dedicated to her and has been on this site since the time of her death. (Tradition has it that it is built on the site of her house). The sculpture is by Italian-Swiss sculptor Stefano Maderno :

There are earlier depictions. Here is an example, a mosaic from San Appolinare in Ravenna, Italy in the iconographic style, which dates from the 6th century. We see the palms of martydom here:

Readers, may be interested, as I was, by the context of this holy image. She is one of many virgin martyrs shown processing down the left hand side of the church and led by the Magi.

(Photo: By Chester M. Wood – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

In the detail above you can see that the artist has faithfully given us her name, on the right, so that it is worthy of veneration.
This does suggest another way of portraying the saints of the Roman Canon in churches today in such a way that they could be venerated on their feast day in the context of the Mass. If the saints are shown, as here, processing towards the altar, then during the entrance or recession the saint of the day could be solemnly incensed while a hymn to her is sung (before the Introit if during the entrance procession). Might his work? Liturgical experts please feel free to comment!
This is one of a series of articles written to highlight the great feasts and the saints of the Roman Canon. All are connected to a single opening essay, in which I set out principles by which we might create a canon of art for Roman Rite churches, and a schema that would guide the placement of such images in a church. (Read it here.) In these, I plan to cover the key elements of images of the Saints of the Roman Canon – Eucharistic Prayer I – and the major feasts of the year. I have created the tag Canon of Art for Roman Rite to group these together, should any be interested in seeing these articles as they accumulate. For the fullest presentation of the principles of sacred art for the liturgy, take the Master’s of Sacred Arts, www.Pontifex.University.

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