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date: 25 January 2020


  • Thomas H. Connolly


Saint of the early Christian Church, traditionally honoured as patroness of music. Until recently there seemed to be little reason for Cecilia’s long association with music as its patroness. Only fleetingly is music mentioned in her Acts, the Passio Caeciliae, a largely fictitious document composed about 500 ce; and not until very much later was she awarded a musical emblem in art. The mystery surrounding her musicality matches the mystery surrounding her person. Late in the 5th century she suddenly appears, among the most venerated of Roman saints, yet any firm evidence that she existed is lacking. Delehaye, who called the case ‘the most tangled question in Roman hagiography’, suggested that the legend developed when Christians who saw the tomb of a lady called Cecilia near the popes buried in the catacomb of St Callistus concluded that only a great martyr would have been interred in so hallowed a spot. Others (e.g. Josi), with considerable justification, think it improbable that an invented saint would have been listed in the Canon of the Mass, and insist on her historicity while admitting that nothing sure is known about her. More recent archeological work has shown Delehaye’s theory to be untenable, but has also further strengthened the evidence against the historicity of the legend....

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Plainsong and Medieval Music
Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart