Martyr with Tiburtius and Maximus, known by their inclusion in the Acts of St. Cecilia. Their tombs in the cemetery of Praetextatus were exceedingly popular during the Middle Ages. According to the Acts, Valerian was Cecilia’s husband, Tiburtius her brother, and Maximus a Roman soldier or official who died with them.
St. Cecilia was born in Rome of wealthy and illustrious parents. From her youth she was raised in the Christian Faith. She prayed fervently, she helped those in need, and beneath her fine clothing she wore a hairshirt.
Though she had vowed to preserve her virginity for Christ, her parents decided to give her in marriage to the noble pagan Valerian. The saint did not dare oppose the will of her parents, but with tears she prayed to God that her betrothed would believe in Christ, and that He would send an angel to preserve her virginity.
On the night of their marriage, Cecilia told her husband that an angel stood by to guard her. She warned him that he would be slain if he dared to touch her. Valerian asked to see this angel, but his bride told him that he could not see the angel until he had been cleansed of the impurity of unbelief.
"How may I be cleansed?" he asked. She said that if he asked Bishop (Pope) Urban for Baptism, he would be able to see the angel. The saint persuaded her fiancé to go with her to Bishop Urban, who was hiding from the persecution in a cave along the Appian Way. The instructions of the wise bishop permeated the soul of Valerian, and both he and his brother Tiburtius believed in Christ and were converted to Christianity. The brothers distributed part of their inheritance to the poor, cared for the sick, and buried Christians tortured to death by the persecutors.
The governor Almachius, having learned of this, gave orders to arrest the brothers and bring them to trial. He demanded that the saints renounce Christ and offer sacrifice to the pagan gods, and the brothers refused. Then they mercilessly began to scourge the brothers. St Valerian under torture urged Christians not to be afraid of torments, but to stand firm for Christ.
The governor, wanting to prevent the holy preacher from influencing the people, ordered that the martyrs be taken outside the city limits and executed there. The detachment of soldiers accompanying the martyrs to execution was commanded by Maximus. He was amazed at the courage of the saints, and asked them why they did not fear death. The holy brothers answered that they were relinquishing this temporal life for life eternal. Maximus wanted to learn the teaching of Christians in detail. He took Sts Valerian and Tiburtius to his own house and conversed with them all night. When she heard of this, St Cecilia went with a priest to Maximus, and he with all his family accepted holy Baptism.
On the following day when they beheaded the Martyrs Valerian and Tiburtius, St Maximus confessed before everyone that he saw how their holy souls had gone up to Heaven. For this confession the holy Martyr Maximus was scourged to death with whips.
The governor wanted to confiscate the property of the executed, but when he was told that St Cecilia had already distributed all her remaining wealth to the poor and by her preaching had converted 400 men, he ordered her execution. For three days they tormented her with fire and smoke in a red-hot bath-house, but the grace of God helped her. Then they decided to behead her. The executioner struck the saint three times with a sword, but only wounded her. The holy Martyr lived three more days in full consciousness, encouraging those around her and distributing her few remaining assets to the poor, and died with prayer on her lips.
In 821, there was an old church fallen into decay with the dedication to S. Cecilia; but Pope Paschal I dreamed that the body of the saint lay in the cemetery of S. Celestas, along with that of her husband Valerian. He accordingly looked for them and found them. He translated these relics to the church of S. Cecilia, and founded a monastery in their honor.
The story of S. Cecilia is full of beauty and merit.
There was in the city of Rome a virgin named Cecilia, who was given in marriage to a youth named Valerian. She wore sackcloth next to her skin, and fasted, and invoked the saints and angels and virgins, beseeching them to guard her virginity. And she said to her husband, "I will tell you a secret if you will swear not to reveal it to anyone." And when he swore, she added, "There is an angel who watches me, and wards off from me any who would touch me." He said, "Dearest, if this be true, show me the angel." "That can only be if you will believe in one God, and be baptized."
She sent him to Pope S. Urban (223-230), who baptized him; and when he returned, he saw Cecilia praying in her chamber, and an angel by her with flaming wings, holding two crowns of roses and lilies, which he placed on their heads, and then vanished. Shortly after, Tibertius, the brother of Valerian, entered, and wondered at the fragrance and beauty of the flowers at that season of the year.
When he heard the story of how they had obtained these crowns, he also consented to be baptized. After their baptism the two brothers devoted themselves to burying the martyrs slain daily by the prefect of the city, Turcius Almachius [this name probably is erronious]. They were arrested and brought before the prefect, and when they refused to sacrifice to the gods were executed with the sword.
In the meantime, S. Cecilia, by preaching had converted four hundred persons, whom Pope Urban forthwith baptized. Then Cecilia was arrested, and condemned to be suffocated in the baths. She was shut in for a night and a day, and the fires were heaped up, and made to glow and roar their utmost, but Cecilia did not even break out into perspiration through the heat. When Almachius heard this he sent an executioner to cut off her head in the bath. The man struck thrice without being able to sever the head from the trunk. He left her bleeding, and she lived three days. Crowds came to her, and collected her blood with napkins and sponges, whilst she preached to them or prayed. At the end of that period she died, and was buried by Pope Urban and his deacons.
St. Cecilia is regarded as the patroness of music [because of the story that she heard heavenly music in her heart when she was married], and is represented in art with an organ or organ-pipes in her hand.