Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Feast of St Cecilia in Rome

Like many of the old Roman basilicas, the church of St Cecilia in Trastevere brings out some very nice decorations for its patronal feast day. The church had a lot of visitors this evening leading up to Vespers and the main Mass, including a large group of American college students.

The vase in the lower right of this photo is actually the summit of a fountain in the courtyard in front of the church. As is the case with so many of the city’s ancient churches, various parts of St Cecilia were built in several different eras; here we see the 12th century portico and bell-tower with the 18th century façade.
 The baldachin by Arnolfo di Cambio, signed and dated 1293.
The famous statue of St Cecilia by Stefano Maderno, representing her as she was found when her tomb was opened in 1599, an occasion for which Maderno himself was present.
The red and white flowers mixed together represent the crowns of flowers, “bright with roses and shining with lilies”, with which St Cecilia and her betrothed Valerian, whom she had led to the Faith, were crowned by an Angel, according to the traditional story of her martyrdom. Valerian in his turn converted his brother Tiburtius, who was martyred with him; their feast is traditionally kept on April 14th.
A closer view of the altar and its richly decorated antependium. Several other altars of the church are similarly covered for the feast day, as can be seen below.

The apsidal mosaic was executed in the reign of Pope St Paschal I (817-24). The hand of God the Father crowns Christ in the middle as he descends to earth on a staircase of colored clouds. Closest to Christ stand Ss Peter and Paul, with St Cecilia next to Paul and Valerian next to Peter. Pope Paschal himself is on the left, offering the church to Christ and St Cecilia; the square blue halo indicates that he is alive at the time the mosaic is made. To right of Valerian is St Agatha, who balances the composition. Over Pope Paschal’s shoulder, a phoenix, the symbol of the Resurrection, stands in a palm tree. In the band beneath, the Lamb of God stands on a hill from which flow the four rivers of Paradise, and twelve lambs representing the Apostles come towards Him. - The motif is copied from the 6th century apse of the church of Ss Cosmas and Damian near the Forum, but the workmanship is much less fine. How little it was esteemed already by the end of the 13th century can be judged by the position of the baldachin. 

Off the right side of the church is a chapel which incorporates part of an ancient Roman structure, said to be the bath of St Cecilia’s house, into which she was locked in an attempt to steam her to death during her passion. The structure on the right includes a very ancient water pipe which was part of the bath.
The altar of this chapel.


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