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St. Cecily, Virgin Martyr, A.D. 230

( Originally Published 1883 )



His contemporary biographer, writing in the Liber Pontificalis, tells us that Paschal, who had succeeded to the See of Peter, in January, A.D. 817, removed the relics of the Popes from the Papal Crypt, and he wished, at the same time, to remove the relics of St. Cecilia ; but he could not discover lier tomb, so at length he reluctantly acquiesced in the report that her body had been carried off by Astulfus, the Lombard King, by whom Rome had been besieged, and their cemeteries plundered. Some four years after-wards, however, St. Cecilia appeared to him in a dream or vision, as he was assisting on his throne at Matins in the Vatican Basilica, and told him that when he was translating, the bodies of the Popes, she was so close to him, that they might have conversed together. In consequence of this vision he returned to the search, and found the body where he had been told. It was fresh and perfect as when it was first laid in the tomb, and clad in rich garments, mixed with gold, with linen cloths stained with blood rolled up at her feet, lying in a cypress coffin.

Paschal himself tells us that he lined the coffin with fringed silk, spread over the body a covering of silk gauze, and placing it in the same attitude in which he had found it, within a sarcophagus of white marble, deposited it under the high altar of the Church of Sta Cecilia, at Trastavere.

Nearly 800 years afterwards, A.D. 1599, Cardinal Sfondrati, of the title of " St. Cecilia," made considerable alterations in the church, and in the course of his excavations in the sanctuary, he came upon a wide vault beneath the altar. Two marble sarcophagi met his eyes. Trustworthy witnesses were summoned, and, in their presence, one of these sarcophagi was opened. It was found to contain a coffin of cypress wood. The Cardinal himself drew back the coffin lid. First appeared the precious lining and silk gauze with which Paschal had covered the body, nearly eight centuries before. Its colour had faded, but the fabric was still entire, and through its transparent folds could be seen the shining gold of the robes in which the martyr herself was clothed. After pausing a few moments, the Cardinal gently removed this silken covering, and the virgin form of St. Cecilia appeared in the very same attitude in which she had breathed her last, on the pavement of the house in which the spectators were then standing, and which neither Urban or Paschal had ventured to disturb. She lay clothed in her robes of golden tissue, on which were still visible the glorious stains of her blood, and at her feet were the linen cloths mentioned by Pope Paschal and his biographer. Lying on her right side, with her arms extended in front of her body, she looked like one in a deep sleep. Her head, in a singularly touching manner, was turned round towards the bottom of the coffin, her knees were slightly bent and drawn together. The body was perfectly uncorrupt, and, by a special miracle, retained, after more than 1,300 years, all its grace and modesty, and recalled with the most truthful exactness Cecilia, breathing forth her soul on the pavement of her bath.

A more signal vindication of the Church's traditions, a more con-soling spectacle for a devout Catholic, mourning over the schisms and heresies of those miserable times, a more striking commentary on the Divine promise—" The Lord keepeth the bones of his servants, He will not lose one of them," it would be difficult to conceive. One is not surprised at the profound sensation which the intelligence of this discovery created in the Eternal City.

Pope Clement VIII., at that time, sick at Frascati, deputed Cardinal Baronius to make a careful examination of the precious remains, and both he and Bosio have left accounts of what they witnessed. All Rome came to satisfy its curiosity and devotion, for the space of four or five weeks, during which the Virgin Martyr lay exposed for veneration, and when the tomb was again closed on St. Cecilia's Day, the Pope himself sang the mass. Cardinal Sfondrati erected the beautiful high altar which now stands over the saint's tomb, and beneath it he placed a statue, by Maduna, who had frequently seen the body, as the inscription intimates :

" En tibi sanctissimae virginis Crecillae imaginem quam ipse integram, in sepulchre jacentem, vidi, eandem tibi prorsus eodem corporis situ hoc marmore expressi."

Behold the image of the most holy virgin Cecilia, whom I myself saw lying incorrupt in her tomb, I have in this marble expressed for thee the same saint in the very same posture of body."—Northcote and Brownlow's " Roma Sotterranea."

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