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MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  November 1996

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION November 1996

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Subject:

FEAST 22 November...

From:

Bonnie Blackburn <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Sun, 24 Nov 1996 19:21:14 +0000 (GMT)

Content-Type:

TEXT/PLAIN

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

TEXT/PLAIN (89 lines)

St Cecilia calls for a word from a music historian. But what I am
giving below is from my husband, Leofranc Holford-Strevens (a
classicist with musicological interests):

Julia Bolton Holloway <[log in to unmask]> contributes a
valuable account of Cecila in Middle English sources. She notes
the detail about Cecilia preaching is not in the Golden Legend;
but the _Passio_, a romance of the late fifth century composed to
give her legend a definitive form, which at the moment I can
quote only from a secondary source (see below), states: `Non
cessavit omnes quos nutrierat et quos docuerat in fide dominica
confortare', `She did not cease to strengthen in the faith of the
Lord all those whom she had nurtured and whom she had taught'.
The older manuscripts do not include the supposed law preventing
the executioner from striking a fourth blow, found in the Golden
Legend and Chaucer.

`Nor is Pope Urban I the right one for her dates.' But that
implies we have independent evidence for her existence and her
martyrdom: Urban I (222-30) is right for a martyrdom c. 223 under
Severus Alexander, as in the Golden Legend. I cannot quote the
_Passio_ here, since it is Sunday and the Bodleian Library is
closed; it was edited by Hippolyte Delehaye in _E'tude sur le
le'gendier romain: Les saints de novembre et de de'cembre'
(Subsidia Hagiographica, 23; Brussels, 1936), who studies the
legend in depth. However, it has now been examined anew by Thomas
Connolly, first in articles in _Studi musicali_ for 1978 and
1980, now in _Mourning into Joy: Music, Raphael, and Saint
Cecilia_ (Yale University Press: London and New Haven, 1994), who
postulates that the Transtiberine cult of Bona Dea Oclata or
Restitutrix, worshipped as a protectress against eye-disease and
blindness (_caecitas_) near the present basilica of S. Cecilia in
Trastevere, gave rise in Christian times to that of Caecilia, or
in one source Caecilius, celebrated on 16 September, 17 November,
or 22 November; this folk-belief was then attached to the
Caecilia buried in a crypt built next to that of the popes, in
the catacomb of Callistus, after the persecutions had ceased.
This, he argues, may well have been a Jewish-Christian church,
for her cult drew on the Book of Esther, held in very little
regard by Gentiles. Direct influence from the all-female cult of
Bona Dea may be seen in the substitution of Esther for Mordechai
in a reading taken from Esth. 13: 8ff.; but inversion in the
importation of one whose other name, `Hadassah' (2: 7), means
`Myrtle' to a place whence myrtle was banned as being sacred to
Venus, the antithesis to Bona Dea.
    To this I should like to add that the date on which her
station was celebrated, namely the Wednesday after the second
Sunday in Lent, is thirty days before Good Friday: now if we
treat Good Friday as the Christian counterpart of 14 Nisan, the
day on which the Passover lamb is slaughtered - which equation
underlies the older Roman rule, that Easter Sunday could
not fall earlier than the 16th day of the lunar month, not the
15th as in the Alexandrian practice that came to prevail in the
sixth century - then thirty days before 14 Nisan brings one to 13
Adar, the Fast of Esther preceding Purim.
    But Connolly's most remarkable achievement is to overthrow
the received notion that St Caecilia's patronage of music derived
from a simple misunderstanding of the statement in the _Passio_
that `cantantibus organis illa in corde suo soli Domino
decantabat' (`And whil the organs maden melodie/ To God allone in
herte thus sang she'), prayer being the song of the heart as St
Augustine tells us. The _Passio_ represents her as, through her
virginity, the possessor, and sharer, of an angelic vision that
contrasts with the spiritual blindness of her persecutors. It is
as a virgin, sharing in the _vita angelica_ as a member of a
celestial choir (ultimately from Rev. 14: 1 5, though they are
men), that she sings to God in her heart, and hears the _musica
mundana_. (Cf. Eph. 5: 18-19, where making melody in one's heart
to the Lord is preferred to being drunk with wine; it may be
relevant, if the Esther connection holds, that at Purim Jews are
bidden in the Talmud, _Megillah_ 7_b_, to drink till they can no
longer tell the difference between `Accursed be Haman' and
`Blessed be Mordechai.') Hence in the later Middle Ages she is
symbolically depicted carrying (not at first playing) a portative
organ; as the Neoplatonic world-view faded, and earthly music
regained its inheritance from the spiritual interloper, the
musical Cecilia became its patron.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Bonnie Blackburn
67 St Bernard's Road
Oxford OX2 6EJ
tel. 01865 552808    fax 01865 512237
e-mail: [log in to unmask]



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