by J.P. Kirsch
Transcribed by Michael T. Barrett
This article is reprinted here with the kind permission of Kevin Knight, who has undertaken a project to transcribe an online version of the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia.
Part I: Introduction
Virgin and martyr, patroness of church music, died at Rome.
This saint, so often glorified in the fine arts and in poetry, is one of the most venerated martyrs of Christian antiquity.
The oldest historical account of St. Cecilia is found in the "Martyrologium Hieronymianum." From this it is evident that her feast was celebrated in the Roman Church in the fourth century.
Her name occurs under different dates in the above-mentioned martyrology;
its mention under 11 August, the feast of the martyr Tiburtius, is evidently a later and erroneous addition, due to the fact that this Tiburtius, who was buried on the Via Labicana,
was wrongly identified with Tiburtius, the brother-in-law of St. Cecilia, mentioned in the Acts of her martyrdom.
Perhaps also there was another Roman martyr of the name of Cecilia buried on the Via Labicana.
Under the date of 16 September Cecilia is mentioned alone, with the topographical note:
"Appia via in eadem urbe Roma natale et passio sanctæ Ceciliæ virginis" (the text is to be thus corrected).
This is evidently the day of the burial of the holy martyr in the Catacomb of Callistus.
The feast of the saint mentioned under 22 November, on which day it is still celebrated, was kept in the church in the Trastevere quarter at Rome, dedicated to her.
Its origin, therefore, is to be traced most probably to this church.
The early medieval guides (Itineraria) to the burial-places of Roman martyrs point out her grave on the Via Appia, next to the crypt of the Roman bishops of the third century (De Rossi, Roma sotterranea, I, 180-181).
De Rossi located the burial-place of Cecilia in the Catacomb of Callistus in a crypt immediately adjoining the crypt or chapel of the popes;
an empty niche in one of the walls contained, probably, at one time the sarcophagus with the bones of the saint.
Among the frescoes of a later time with which the wall of the sepulchre are adorned, the figure of a richly-dressed woman appears twice and Pope Urban, who was brought personally into close relation with the saint by the Acts of her martyrdom, is depicted once.
The ancient titular church of Rome, mentioned above, was built as early as the fourth century and is still preserved in Trastevere.
This church was certainly dedicated in the fifth century to the saint buried on the Via Appia;
it is mentioned in the signatures of the Roman Council of 499 as "titulus sanctae Caeciliae" (Mansi, Coll, Conc. VIII, 236).
Like some other ancient Christian churches of Rome, which are the gifts of the saints whose names they bear, it may be inferred that the Roman Church owes this temple to the generosity of the holy martyr herself;
in support of this view it is to be noted that the property, under which the oldest part of the true Catacomb of Callistus is constructed, belonged most likely, according to De Rossi's researches, to the family of St. Cecilia (Gens Caecilia),
and by donation passed into the possession of the Roman Church.
Although her name is not mentioned in the earliest (fourth century) list of feasts (Depositio martyrum), the fact that in the Sacramentarium Leoniam,
a collection of masses completed about the end of the fifth century, are found no less than five different masses in honour of St. Cecilia testifies to the great veneration in which the saint was at that time held in the Roman Church
[Sacram. Leon., ed. Muratori, in "Opera" (Arezzo, 1771), XIII, I, 737, sqq.].