Hymns for the feast of St Cecilia (22 November)

This is a list of hymns and songs for the feast of St Cecilia (celebrated on 22 November) - or for other events help in her memory, or for celebrations of music or musicians - the two patronages which she is most-closely associated with

The suggestions below are either directly about St Cecelia or based on the themes from her life and work.

The list is divided into two parts: free-use materials that can be freely used with no concerns about copyright (because they are in the public domain), and hymns that may still be copyright depending on the laws in your country.

About St Cecilia

Cecilia, also spelled Cecily, is the patron saint of musicians, organ / instrument builders, poets, (Western, Sacred) music and singers. She was a Roman noblewoman who, along with her husband, was martyred in approx 230 AD.

A religious romance telling the love story of Saint Cecilia and Valerian was produced in Greece during the 4th century and in a biography dating from the 5th century. These documents make it difficult to distinguish between facts about her life and was romanticised propaganda about it.

She is usually presented as a virgin who was forced to marry by her wealthy parents. During her wedding ceremony, she allegedly sang to God in hear heart, On her wedding night, she warned her husband that consummating the marriage would anger her angel friend. When the husband to see the angel, Cecilia said that he would need to be baptised first. He was, and the angel appeared. The husband, Valerian, was converted, as were several other family members.

As well as converting others, Cecilia also distributed her possessions to the poor. This angered the Roman authorities who ordered her to be burned - and then beheaded when the flames did not harm her.

Cecilia was buried in a catacomb near Rome. Early in the 9th century, her body was found incorrupt in the catacomb of St. Praetextatus. The pope had them moved to Rome, to a basilica in Trastevere that is now named after her.

The historical basis for the association between Cecilia and music is tenuous. It may be due to an mis-translation or mis-understanding of phrases from the 5th century The Acta of St Cecilia. This said about her wedding “So at the ceremony, while musical instruments played around her, she prayed that she might remain as pure in body as she was in spirit”. But by the 15th century, this was interpreted as Cecilia singing. This made her particularly popular, especially among musicians, and she was often represented in art playing the organ or with another musical instrument at hand.

Nevertheless, Cecilia's following grew greatly during the Middle Ages in Europe. Songs, poetry paintings about Cecilia were created, and she was a popular topic for artists well into the 18th century.

Works inspired by St Cecilia

Purcell, Handel, Gounod and Benjamin Britten were among the composers who wrote music in Cecilia's honour. The latter persuaded WH Auden to write lyrics for his composition, A Hymn to St Cecilia. John Dryden and Alexander Pope wrote poems about her and Geoffrey Chaucer’s Second Nun’s Tale is about her.In the 1940s, the Andrews sisters, recorded "The Shrine of St. Cecilia" a popular song.

English poet Ursula Vaughan-Williams (widow of composer Ralph) wrote a poem "A Hymn for St. Cecilia ". English composer Herbert Howells (1892-1983) was commissioned to write a setting for this by the Worshipful Company of Musicians, musicians’ guild which at one time had complete control over all musical performances in London.

In the 1960s, popular-music composer Paul Simon clearly knew about Cecilia: as the goddess of music (ref), and she is mentioned again in another of his songs, The Coast. While his hit-song Cecilia has many unsaintly aspects, one some levels it can be read as a composer’s lament to his unreliable muse: “Cecilia, you’re breaking my heart/You’re shaking my confidence daily . . . I’m begging you please to come home.”

In the 21st century, American rock band Foo Fighters released an EP. recorded at Hotel Saint Cecilia in Texas and titled Saint Cecilia" in 2015. The release, according to frontman Dave Grohl, "remind[s] us that music is life". The title-track, " peaked at number 3 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs chart in 2016.

Despite this interest from professional musicians, Cecilia does not appear to have inspired much in the way of popular piety among English-languages speakers at least: so far, very few English folk or popular genre hymns to her or about her have been found. And the wide range of performances of the Howells / Vaughan Williams and Britten / Audenn works make searching.

If you know of any further hymns about St Cecilia, please leave a message in the Comments box near the bottom of the page.


These are the readings suggested by the USCCB. Readings for the day may also may also be taken from the Common of Martyrs or the Common of Virgins

First: Hosea 2:16bc, 17cd, 21-22 -   Thus says the LORD: I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart ...

Psalm 45 - Listen to me, daughter; see and bend your ear    OR    The bridegroom is here; let us go out to meet Christ the Lord.

Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13  - the parable of the wise and foolish virgins.

Free-use hymns

Let the Deep Organ Swell the Lay -  Pise

Saint Cecilia, You who Sing - Dox

Hymns or songs which may still be copyright

A Song of St Cecilia - Sarazin (video)

Feast Song for Saint Cecilia - Rose 

Hymn to St Cecilia - Ursula Vaughan-Williams  (many settings)

St Celia Pray for us - video

When in Our Music God is Glorified - Pratt-Green - also Feeley and many other choral arrangements

See also ...

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