It was the eve of Cecilia’s bridal day, that day when, against her will, her noble parents were forcing her to marry the Roman youth, Valerian, although she had long consecrated her heart and life to God. She had wept and pleaded in vain; now she prayed with a firm trust in God’s deliverance, even at the last hour, that He would keep the heart which was given to Him only. In answer to that prayer, Cecilia was favoured with the sight and conscious presence of her guardian angel, and seated at her organ, her voice rose up in a clear sweet song of praise to God, in Whom was all her confidence.
She had never been like the usual Roman maidens; she was so modest, so grave, that people said she had the glance and step of an angel, but she had won the love of Valerian, who was still a Pagan, yet who was to become a Christian and a martyr, too, by her means.
That marriage eve he went to the palace where Cecilia lived with her parents, and sought her presence, and once again she told him that her promise was made to know no other spouse than Christ, that He would protect her, and that even then an angel defender was by her side, whose bright sword was outspread between them. Valerian was awed now, all but convinced that Cecilia might never be his, but he asked her to show him the angel, and he would believe; he hears that when his eyes are opened by the waters of baptism, when he is a Christian, he shall behold the heavenly spirit, and at the maiden’s bidding he carries a note to Urban, the Pope, afterwards martyred, who is in hiding in one of the catacombs hewn out of the rock.
Valerian comes out a Christian – a new creature in Christ Jesus – who takes his way back to Home, knowing that death is probably before him and before Cecilia, death for the faith they both hold now.
As he sought the apartment of the maiden, he drew back awed at the bright light that streamed forth, for she was kneeling in prayer, her hands and face raised to heaven, and beside her a glorious angel. Humbly yet lovingly Valerian passed in, and knelt upon the other side, as the angel placed on each young head two crowns of lilies and roses – flowers of heaven, not of earth. Thus crowned, they remain upon their knees in prayer, and Valerian’s petition is that his brother, too, may receive light, which is granted him. They were two of the most noble youths of the city, and when the news spread that they were Christians, the Prefect had them taken prisoners, and beaten cruelly, then beheaded for the sake ofChrist,Whom they had onlyjust known. The news is taken to Cecilia – death had come very near her now, and she knew not how soon she might be seized and dragged to torture. So she set about arranging her affairs, consigning all she had to the use of the poor; then the high-born maiden was taken captive, and brought before the Prefect. She was not afraid, she was longing for martyrdom, and when the sentence was* passed, there was no sign of suffering upon her face. They doomed her to be confined in her own baths – the splendid marble baths of the old Roman palaces there to be burned by the most intense heat, kept up by the stoves below. Just as we read in Scripture of the three youths who walked in the midst of the flaming furnace praising God, Cecilia walked through her baths unhurt by the fierce heat, her hands extended in prayer, her voice rising in clear soft hymns to heaven. Fresh fuel was added to the fires hour by hour – no man dared brave an entrance into those heated baths, and yet the words of praise came fresh and strong, till evening faded into night.
Four and twenty hours went by, still Cecilia sang and prayed, and all heard and marvelled that she did not die. Then the fires were ordered to burn low, so that an executioner might bear the heat sufficiently to enter and destroy her with the sword; and when with some difficulty he ventured in to the apartment where but for the power of God she must long before have been burned to ashes, her cheek was cool and fresh, as if no heat had been near her. A moment more, the sword pierced her heart, and Cecilia was amongst the company of virgin martyrs in heaven.
– from , by Mary F Seymour