Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Saints of the Roman Canon: St Cecilia, November 22nd

Tomorrow is the commemoration of St Cecilia, one of the saints mentioned in the Roman Canon. Although she was martyred in the 3rd century AD, and devotion to her remained continuous from that time, the imagery of her that comes to mind mostly from the baroque paintings that highlight her role as patron of sacred music.
Here is one painted by Simone Vouet, painted in 1626. St Cecilia is commonly associated with the pipe organ.

In the same period Guido Reni (1606) shows her with with a stringed instrument, rather than organ.

The form of the devotion that associates her with music is relatively recent; earlier images focused more on her martyrdom and her chastity. These aspects of her life were not ignored by later artists, as this famous baroque sculpture entitled The Martyrdom of St Cecilia shows, by Italian-Swiss sculptor Stefano Maderno. It is in the church in Rome which is dedicated to her and has been on this site since the time of her death. (Tradition has it that it is built on the site of her house).
Here is an example in mosaic from Sant’Apollinare in Ravenna, Italy, in the iconographic style, dating from the 6th century, showing her with the palms of martyrdom.

Readers, may be interested, as I was, in the context of this holy image. She is one of a large group of virgin martyrs shown processing down the left hand side of the church, and led by the Magi. (Click to enlarge.)

Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons by Chester M. Wood - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.)

In the detail above you can see that the artist has faithfully given us her name, on the right, so that it is worthy of veneration. 

This suggests another way of portraying the Saints of the Roman Canon in churches today, so that they can be venerated on their feast day in the context of the Mass. If the Saints are shown, as here, processing towards the altar, then during the entrance or recession the Saint of the day could be solemnly incensed while a hymn to her is sung (before the Introit if during the entrance procession). Might this work? Liturgical experts please feel free to comment!

This is one of a series of articles written to highlight the great feasts and the Saints of the Roman Canon. All are connected to a single opening essay, in which I set out principles by which we might create a canon of art for Roman Rite churches, and a schema that would guide the placement of such images in a church. (Read it here.) In these, I plan to cover the key elements of images of the Saints of the Roman Canon - Eucharistic Prayer I - and the major feasts of the year. I have created the tag Canon of Art for Roman Rite to group these together, should any be interested in seeing these articles as they accumulate. For the fullest presentation of the principles of sacred art for the liturgy, take the Master’s of Sacred Arts, www.Pontifex.University.

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