On Thursday night, we hold the St Cecilia’s Day concert in this hall. I am sure that you all know that this is one of the premier concerts of the year and one to which, I said last year, you should all come at least once before you leave the school. But who was St Cecilia, and why was she ever made a saint?
Every religious denomination provides for sainthood in a slightly different way, but essentially nobody can be a saint during their own life and a saint must have lived a holy life which could be said to have been lived in the likeness of God. In the early days (ie before 4th century AD), only martyrs could be considered saints (ie people who had given up their lives, as Jesus did, in God’s name); after that, it was broadened to others; nowadays in the Catholic Church, it is quite a lengthy process which requires proof that the person being considered for sainthood has performed at least two miracles in their lifetime. Nobody is very sure how the Vatican decides this; but they do.
As a demonstration of this, I was in Australia when Pope John Paul II beatified Mary MacKillop. Beatification is the first stage towards sainthood; it acknowledges that one miracle has definitely taken place. It was a huge day for Australia; it had taken almost 90 years for this to be acknowledged in the case of Mary MacKillop, a 19th century nun who had done much for the education of the poor. Australia had never had a saint before, and this was the first stage of the process. Literally millions turned out to see the Pope and I was one of them, almost close enough to touch him and certainly close enough to feel the force of his magnetic personality. He was a very great man. Only a few years later, a second miracle was proven and Mary MacKillop, about a century after her case was opened, went through a process called canonisation and in 2010 became Australia’s first ever saint. John Paul II, incidentally, became a saint in 2013, only 8 years after his own death. He is the most recent of the Catholic saints.
As a third century martyr in the Roman empire, Cecilia was one of the earliest saints and, as such, did not have to prove any miracles. She was from a wealthy background, and the story goes that she was given in marriage to a young Roman man called Valerian. During her wedding ceremony, she told her husband that she had taken a vow of virginity and that she had an angel protecting her. Valerian asked to see the angel as proof, and Cecilia told him he would see her if he travelled to the third milestone on the Appian Way and were baptized by Pope Urbanus.
Following his baptism, Valerian returned to his wife and did indeed find the angel at her side. When Valerian’s brother, Tibertius, found out about the angel and his brother’s baptism, he also was baptized and together the brothers dedicated their lives to burying the saints who were murdered each day by the prefect of the city of Rome, a man called Almachius.
Both brothers were eventually arrested and brought before the prefect where they were executed after they refused to offer a sacrifice to the gods.
Cecilia, after first converting 400 people to Christianity, was also arrested and was condemned to be suffocated in the Roman baths. She was shut in for one night and one day, as fires were heaped up and stoked to a terrifying heat – but she did not even sweat.
When Almachius heard this, he sent an executioner to cut off her head in the baths.
The executioner struck her three times but was unable to decapitate her so he left her bleeding and she lived for three more days. Crowds came to her and collected her blood while she preached to them or prayed. On the third day she died and was buried by Pope Urbanus and his deacons.
Most saints have some sort of attribute which is special to them. St. Cecilia is regarded as the patron saint of music, because she was transported by heavenly music in her heart during her fateful wedding day. All saints also have a special day on which they are commemorated, and St Cecilia’s day is November 22nd (so we are in fact a week out this year!).
As a postscript to this story, St Cecilia’s body was exhumed 1300 years later and move to her own Chapel in 1599. It is said to have been found completely incorrupt, draped in a silk veil and a gold embroidered dress.
So, back to Thursday night. There are in fact two major events on Thursday night and I would like to everyone in here to consider planning your week around one of them. Put it in the diary. Work around it. Make yourself a promise to broaden your horizons. The excellent St Cecilia’s Day concert is one. It is at 7.30pm in here. If you would prefer, however, to lend your evening to learning about Art, there is a lecture at 7.30pm in the EMH on Picasso by Professor Chris Green from the world famous Courtauld Institute in London. I know Chris Green extremely well; he is a wonderful speaker and a genuine world expert on Picasso. He is the curator of a major current exhibition on cubism in the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. If you would like to learn a little about Picasso, there are few people in the entire world worth listening to more than Professor Green; and you can hear him here, in your very own school, on Thursday night in the EMH.