Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Cecily, Virgin and Martyr

detail of a stained glass window of Saint Cecilia, church of Saint-Alexis de Griesheim-près-Molsheim, Alsace, Bas-Rhin, France; by Ott Frères, 1914; photographed on 21 September 2016 by Ralph Hammann; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Saint Cecily, a Roman maiden of high nobility, had the happiness of being instructed, in her youth, in the truths of Christianity. The love of Christ took such deep root in her heart, that, choosing Him as her bridegroom, she consecrated her virginity by vow, and desired nothing more fervently, than to shed her blood for His sake. She constantly carried the Gospel with her, and read it with great delight, so as to conform her actions more and more to its lessons. Whilst she thus lived according to the dictates of Christianity, her parents promised her hand to a noble and rich youth, named Valerian, and when the wedding-day arrived and all was joy in her parents house, she alone was sad unto death. According to her station she was splendidly attired, dazzling with costly jewels: but under her magnificent apparel, she wore, as usual, a rough penitential garment, and though her heart was sorrowful, her trust in God wavered not. She had fasted during the three previous days, to move her heavenly Spouse to protect her virginity. To the same end she invoked her Guardian Angel and the Blessed Virgin, the Queen of virgins. When the wedding was over, and Valerian was alone with her, Cecily, trusting in God, said gently but firmly to him: “Valerian, I am under the protection of an Angel, who guards my virginity. Therefore, be very careful that you act towards me in such a manner that the wrath of the Almighty may not be roused against you.” This unexpected speech astonished Valerian greatly; but when she informed him that she was a Christian and had vowed her virginity to God, telling at the same time, how agreeable it is to God when we keep our word with Him, and how we offend Him by breaking our vows, his heart was touched, and he said that he also would believe in Christ if he could see the Angel under whose protection she was. Cecily replied that this could not be unless he was baptized. The youth, desiring to see the Angel, promised to embrace Christianity, if she would procure him an opportunity to be instructed. Cecily informed him of the place where pope Urban was concealed on account of the persecution which the Christians suffered at that period. Valerian went to him, on the following day, and after having been instructed and baptized, returned to his bride. He found her praying, and saw beside her, what he had wished to behold, an Angel surrounded by heavenly brightness. Ancient legends tell us that the Angel held two wreaths of roses and lilies in his hand, one of which he gave to Cecily, the other to the new convert, exhorting both to constancy. Prostrating themselves, both gave bumble thanks to the Almighty. Meanwhile, Tiburtius, the brother of Valerian, came to visit them, and having been told what had happened, he also resolved to become a Christian. Valerian took him to the pope, who instructed and baptized him, and thus enabled him to behold the same Angel whom his brother had seen.

The conversion of these two young men could not long remain a secret. Almachius, the Governor, summoned them into his presence, and as they were determined to remain in the Christian faith, he had them both executed, after a long and most painful martyrdom. The holy virgin Cecily was also compelled to appear before the judge. She was first asked where the fortune was concealed which the two brothers had left. She replied, that it had been well disposed of, as the poor had received it. The Governor, enraged at this reply, commanded Cecily to be brought into the idolatrous temple, and if she refused to sacrifice immediately to the gods, she was to die a cruel death. Cecily was taken thither by a company of rough soldiers, to whom, on the way, she represented so strongly the truth of the Christian religion, that they all promised to forsake idolatry. Almachius, still more embittered, ordered Cecily to be taken to her own house, locked into the bathing-room and stifled by the heat. But it was all in vain. The bath was heated a whole day and night without causing. the Saint the least inconvenience. She was, at last, condemned to be beheaded. Three times the axe of the executioner fell without being able to sever her head from her body. When, at the third stroke, the Saint sank to the ground, the executioner left her for dead. Cecily, however, lived three days longer, and gave to all that came to see her, the most wholesome instructions. She left her property to the holy pope for the poor, and expressed the wish that her dwelling should be consecrated as a church, which was accordingly done. After three days, her triumphant soul went to her heavenly Spouse, about the middle of the third century of the Christian Era. We must not omit what the Roman Breviary also records of this holy virgin, that, when she heard the harmony of the music with which her wedding was celebrated, she sang to God in the interior of her heart: “O Lord, preserve my heart and body spotless, that I may not perish.” How holy a song, and how agreeable a prayer it was to God and the holy Angels, her history has shown.

Practical Considerations

• The two Saints, whose history we have related were at the same time virgins and martyrs. Saint Cecily was a martyr of faith; Saint Maxilinda, a martyr of chastity. Saint Cecily manifested, in deeds, that she esteemed the true faith above honor, wealth and life; while Saint Maxilinda proved by her death that she preferred chastity to all the treasures of the world, and even to her own life. The one died rather than forsake the true faith: the other, rather than break the vow she had made to God. May the entire Christian world learn from these two Christian heroines, the value of the true faith and chastity. There have been many, who, for temporal gain forsook the true faith, or by an ill advised marriage, placed themselves in great danger of becoming apostates. These will, one day, though too late, learn, to their eternal misery, what they lost and what they gained. There are also many, who for some temporal advantage, or to satisfy their desires, lose their innocence, and thus imitate the traitor Judas, when he offered to sell his divine Master, saying: u What will you give me and I will deliver him unto you?” (Matthew 26) Woe to all these senseless people! In eternity, they will curse their wickedness and blindness, and cry out: “Therefore we have erred from the way of truth, and the light of justice hath not shined unto us.” (Wisdom 5) I hope that my reader does not resemble such blind and foolish people.

• Saint Cecily carried the Gospel continually with her, read it with great delight, and endeavored to conform her life to its precepts. Saint Maxilinda passed much time in devout reading, and drew from it, not only the spirit of piety which animated her, but also her love of chastity and her strength to protect it. What book do you carry about? What books do you read? And what sort of spirit do you draw from them? Are your books such that you can gain salvation by following their lessons? or are they such that nothing can be learned from them but vanity, pride, licentiousness, infidelity, heresy, and contempt of God and ‘His holy religion? If you value your soul, read only such books as Saint Paul recommended to Timothy: books that will instruct you in the way you have to walk in order to gain your salvation. Avoid those which would lead you to the broad path of evil and thus precipitate you into eternal ruin. Rest assured that many have fallen into great crimes by reading immoral and heretical books, and have by this means gone to everlasting destruction. Others, on the contrary, by reading a devout book, were animated with true piety, which afterwards, strengthened by the same means, guided them in the way to heaven. Follow the example of the latter, and appoint a time in which you will read the Gospel, or other devout book; and take care, at the same time, that, after the examples of Saint Cecily and Saint Maxilinda, you conform your life in accordance with the lessons you will receive. “Thou must know,” writes Saint Jerome, “that God not only commands us to be acquainted with His laws, but also, to live up to them.”

• The purity of these two holy virgins was wonderfully preserved by the Almighty. He protected them while they were in the most imminent danger. To increase Maxilinda’s glory in heaven, God permitted her to be slain in defense of her chastity. But why did the Lord thus protect both of them? Because both placed their trust in Him, and prayed for His aid, and did everything in their power to help themselves. If you do not, in like manner, receive the divine protection, in temptations of body and soul, then the fault is in yourself, not in God. Your trust in the Almighty is not what it ought to be. Your prayer is either faulty or perhaps entirely neglected, and you do not resist earnestly enough. Correct your conduct in this respect, if you wish God to hear you. Do all that is in your power and call on God for help. Repeat frequently the short, but expressive prayer of Saint Cecily: “O Lord! preserve my heart and body pure, that I may not go to destruction.” Add mortification to prayer, as Saint Cecily did, and then trust implicitly in the Lord; for, Holy Writ assures us that God will not forsake those who trust in Him. He has the power to protect, and will surely hold His hand over you. “Do all you can,” says Saint Bernard, “and leave the rest to the Almighty.” He will do all that you are unable to do. “In every danger and temptation, we must endeavor to help ourselves as strenuously, as though there was no God to assist us, or as though we had everything to do for ourselves; but at the same time, we must call for aid on the Most High, as though we possessed no means whatever to help ourselves.” Thus speaks Saint James of Nisibis.

In conclusion, every parent ought to learn, from the history of Saint Maxilinda, the great misfortune he may occasion by promising his children to any one, without their consent, or by forcing them to marry against their inclination. It is natural that parents should advise their children in regard to marriage, and when a child wishes to marry one who is not a Catholic, it is their duty to oppose it with all their power; but to force them to bind themselves for life to one for whom they have no inclination is not allowed; because this occasions dissensions and many crimes for which they will have, one day, to render an account to the Almighty. Children, however, must also know that they commit great sin by giving their promise to any one without sufficient reason, by marrying without the knowledge of their pa- rents or perhaps even against their prohibition. We generally find that such marriages are not blessed; as, according to Holy Writ, the Almighty has pronounced an especial curse against children who bring sorrow upon their parents, or who wickedly provoke their anger.

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Cecily, Virgin and Martyr”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 26 May 2018. Web. 19 September 2018. <>