Monday, November 22, 2010

Oh Bright Cecilia

Bronze pomegranates (an age old symbol of both welcome and life) adorn the marble altar railing at the Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere.

In 1599 when Cardinal Paul Emilius Sfondrati was rebuilding the Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere he had the body of Saint exhumed. It was said that witnesses testified that the body was intact not corrupted by decay or death. Apparently it was still possible to see the three cuts on her neck where the executioner tried, unsuccessfully, to behead her. This only strengthened the devotion to the Saint and her day was celebrated with great pomp, elaborate processions and decorations and, of course, music!
The altar at Santa Cecilia in Trastevere enshrines the remains of its titular Saint. The marble carving is said to duplicate the state her body was found in when it was exhumed in 1599 - the young Stefano Maderno's work became a model for many other sculptors of the period.

Her actual association with music is rather tenuous and never was so much made of such a tiny bit of pseudo-biographical information. St. Cecilia was said to have heard heavenly music at one moment of her life and from that became the patroness of all western music. A cult build up around her and poets and composers created odes and anthems celebrating her life and the glory of music.

This two brass castings are on either side of the main altar at Santa Cecilia - the top one is definitely Cecilia (the organ pipes are the give-away) and the other two are possibly her husband Valerian and his brother Tiburtius who were martyred with her. I'm not sure of who the three are in the lower panel and wasn't able to find any information on a search.

Over the past few years I've always posted something musical to celebrate the Feast of Santa Cecilia. Normally its been something in the classical vein but I found this little treasure from 1941 originally recorded by the Andrews Sisters. This is a latter version by the Bon Aires.

Our home is a shambles, all I treasured has gone
The town seems deserted, everyone's so forlorn
A storm came from up above but somehow it missed
The shrine of Saint Cecilia

The bells in the chapel never ring anymore
The clock in the steeple can't tell time as before
But up on the hillside, stands a place heaven blest
The shrine of Saint Cecilia

Each day at eventide
When I seek haven from my daily care
You'll find me by her side
It seems so peaceful there

I kneel in my solitude and silently pray
That heaven will protect you, dear, and there'll come a day
The storm will be over and that we'll meet again
At the shrine of Saint Cecilia
Pern Jokern / Carroll Loveday

A little big of digging suggests that the lyrics are referring to a town somewhere in Europe - perhaps right here in Italy - which has been hit by the devastation of war. By some miracle the local shrine dedicated to Cecilia has been spared and brings comfort and hope to the singer.

Oh Bright Cecilia!

And as always this is sent with love to my own bright Cecilia.

22 novembre - Santa Cecilia
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Anonymous said...

Just sang Britten's Hymn to St. Cecilia 3 times this weekend - including Monday, her actual feast day. (Did you know it was also Britten's birthday?) Hope Ben liked it.


Doralong said...

This annual post always makes me smile.