Life of Saint Cecilia

from William Caxton, Golden Legend (1483)

 [The interpretation of the name Cecilia serves as an introduction.]

Of Saint Cecilia

Saint Cecilia the holy virgin was come of the noble lineage of the Romans, and from the time that she lay in her cradle she was fostered and nourished in the faith of Christ, and always bare in her breast the gospel hid, and never ceased day ne night from holy prayers but recommended to God always her virginity.

And when this blessed virgin should be spoused to a young man named Valerian, and the day of wedding was come, and was clad in royal clothes of gold, but under she wore the hair[-shirt], and she hearing the organs making melody, she sang in her heart only to God saying, "O lord I beseech thee that myn heart and body may be undefouled so that I be not confounded."

And every second and third day she fasted commending herself unto our Lord whom she dreaded. The night came that she should go to bed with her husband as the custom is, and when they were both in their chamber alone, she said to him in this manner: "O my best beloved and sweet husband, I have a counsel to tell thee, if so be that thou wilt keep it secrete and swear that ye shall bewreye [reveal] it to no man." To whom Valerian said that he would gladly promise and swear never to bewreye it.

And then she said to him, "I have an angel that loveth me which ever keepeth my body whether I sleep or wake and if he may find that ye touch my body by vilainy or foul and polluted love, certainly he shall anon slay you, and so should ye lose the flower of your youth and if so be that thou love me in holy love and cleanness, he shall love thee as he loveth me and shall show to thee his grace."

Then Valerian, corrected by the will of God, having dread, said to her, "If thou wilt that I believe that thou sayest to me, show to me that angel that thou speakest of, and if I find veritable that he be the angel of God, I shall do that thou sayest. And if so be that thou love another man than me, I shall slay both him and thee with my sword."

Cecilia answered to him, "If thou wilt believe and baptize thee thou shalt well now see him. Go then forth to Via Appia which is three mile out of this town and there thou shalt find Pope Urban with poor folks. And tell him these words that I have said. And when he hath purged you from sin by baptism, then when ye come again ye shall see the angel."

And forth went Valerian and found this holy man Urban louting [lurking] among the burials [catacombs], to whom he reported the words that Cecilia had said. And Saint Urban for joy gan [did] hold up his hand and the tears fell out of his eyes, and said, "O mighty God Jesus Christ sower of chaste counsel and keeper of us all, receive the fruit of the seed that thou hast sown in Cecilia. For like a busy bee she serveth thee. For the spouse whom she hath taken, which was like a wode lcrazed] lion, she hath sent him hither like as a meek lamb." And with that word appeared suddenly an old man y-clad in white clothes, holding a book written with letters of gold, whom Valerian seeing, for fear fell down to the ground, as he had been dead.

Whom the old man raised and took up and read in this wise: "One God, one faith, one baptism. One God and father of all, above all, and in us all everywhere." And when this old man had read this, he said, "Believest thou this or doubtest thou it? Say yea or nay."

Then Valerian cried, saying "There is no thing truer under heaven." Then vanished this old man away. Then Valerian received baptism of Saint Urban and returned home to Saint Cecilia whom he found within her chamber speaking with an angel. And this angel had two crowns of roses and lilies which he held in his hand, of which he gave one to Cecilia and that other to Valerian saying "Keep ye these crowns with an undefouled and a clean body, for I have brought them to you from paradise, and they shall never fade nor wither nor lose their savor; nor they may not be seen but of them to whom chastity pleaseth. And thou Valerian because thou hast used profitable counsel, demand what thou wilt."

To whom Valerian said, "There is no thing in this world to me lever [dearer] than my brother whom I would fain that he might know this very truth with me."

To whom the angel said, "Thy petition pleaseth our lord, and ye both shall come to him by the palm of martyrdom." And anon Tiburce his brother and came and entered in to this chamber. And anon he felt the sweet odor of the roses and lilies, and marvelled from whence it came.

Then Valerian said, "We have crowns which thine eyes may not see and like as by my prayers thou hast felt the odor of them. So if thou wilt believe, thou shalt see the crowns of roses and lilies that we have. Then Cecilia and Valerian began to preach to Tiburce of the joy of heaven and of the foul creaunce [belief] of paynims, the abusion of idols, and of the pains of hell which the damned suffer. And also they preached to him of the Incarnation of our Lord and of his passion, and did so much that Tiburce was converted, baptized of [by] St Urban, and from than forth he had so much grace of God that every day he saw angels and all that ever he required of our Lord he obtained.

After Almachius, provost of Rome, which put to death many Christian men, heard say that Tiburce and Valerian buried Christian men that were martyred and gave all their good to poor people. He called them tofore him, and after long disputation he commanded that they should go to the statue or image of Jupiter for to do sacrifice or else they should be beheaded. And as they were led they preached the faith of our lord to one called Maximus that they converted him to the Christian faith, and they promised to him that if he had very repentance and firm creadance that he should see the glory of heaven, which their souls should receive at the hour of their passions. And that he himself should have the same if he would believe.

Then Maximus got leave of the tormentours for to have them home to his house. And the said Maximus with al his household and all the tormentours were turned to the faith. Then came Saint Cecilia thider with priests and baptised them. And afterward when the morning came Saint Cecilia said to them, "Now ye knights of Christ cast away from you the works of darkness and clothe you with the arms of light." And then they were led four mile out of the town and brought tofore the image of Jupiter. But in no wise they would do sacrifice nor incense to the idol, but humbly with great devotion kneeled down and there were beheaded. And Saint Cecilia took their bodies and buried them.

Then Maximus that saw this thing said that he saw in the hours of their passion angels clear shining, and their souls ascend into heaven which bare up. Wherefore many were converted to the Christian faith.

And when Almache heard that Maximus was Christianed he did do beat him with plomettes of lead so long til he gave up his spirit and died, whose body Saint Cecilia buried by Valerian, and after Almache commanded that Cecilia should be brought unto his presence for to do sacrifice to Jupiter, and she so preached to them that came for her that she converted them to the faith which wept sore that so fair a maid and so noble should be put to death.

Then she said to them, "O ye good young men, it is nothing to lose the youth but to change it -- that is to give clay and take therefor gold, to give a foul habitacle [habitation] and take a precious, to give a little corner and to take a right great place; God rewardeth for one simple an hundred fold. Believe ye this that I have said." And they said, "We believe Christ to be very God which hath such a servant."

Then Saint Urban was called and four hundred and more were baptised.

Then Almache calling tofore him Saint Cecilia said to her, "Of what condition art thou?" And she said that she was of a noble kynrede. To whom Almachius said, "I demand thee of what religion art thou?"

Then Cecilia said, "Then begannest thou thy demand folyly that wouldest have two answers in one demand."

To whom Almache said, "From whence cometh thy rude answer?"

And she sayd, "Of good conscience and faith not feigned."

To whom Almachius said, "Knowest thou not of what power I am?"

And she said, "Thy power is little to dread, for it is like a bladder full of wind, which with the pricking of a needle is anon gone away and come to nought."

To whom Almache said, "In wronge beganest thou and in wrong thou perseverest. Knowest thou not how our princes have given me power to give life and to slay?"

And she said, "Now shal I prove thee a liar against the very truth. Thou mayst wel take the life from them that live, but to them that be dead thou mayst give no life. Therfore thou art a minister not of life but of death."

To whom Almachius said, "Now lay apart thy madness and do sacrifice to the gods."

To whom Cecilia said, "I wot never where thou hast loste thy sight, for them that thou sayest be goddes, we see them stones. Put thine hand and by touching thou shalt learn that which thou mayst not see with thine eyes."

Then Almachius was wroth and commanded her to be led into her house and there to be burned in a burning baine [bath] which her seemed was a place cool and wel attempered. Then Almachius, hearing that, commmanded that she should be beheaded in the same bath. Then the tormentor smote at her three strokes and could not smite off her heed. And the fourth stroke he might not by the law smite and so left her there lying half alive and half dead.

And she lived three dayes after in that mannere, and gave all that she had to poor people and continually preached the faith all that while and all them that she converted she sente to Urban, for to be baptised and said "I have asked respite three days that I might commend to you these soules. And that ye should hallow of mine house a church."

And then, at the end of three days she slept in our Lord, and Saint Urban wyth his deacons buried her body among the bishops and hallowed her house into a church, in which unto this day is the service unto our Lord.

She suffered her passion about the year of our Lord two hundred and xxiij in the time of Alexaunder the emperor. And it is read in another place that she suffered in the time of Marcius Aurelius, which reigned about the year of our Lord two hundred and twenty.

Then let us devoutly pray unto our Lord that by the merits of this holy virgin and martyr Saint Cecilia we may come to his everlasting bliss in heaven. Amen.

Thus endeth the Life of Saint Cecilia Virgin and Martyr.


Modernized from Caxton's Golden Legende, ed. 1483, printed in Originals and Analogues, Part II, Chaucer Society, 1875 [Widener 11483.7].