Stefano Maderno (Capolago, Switzerland, 1576 – Rome, Italy, 1636), Saint Cecilia, 1600, marble, Rome, Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere
22 November, Memory of Saint Cecilia.
The story of the beautiful statue in white marble, placed under the altar and the ciborium of the church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, is closely linked to the story of the Roman martyr saint.
We do not have too many biographical elements of Saint Cecilia, but her cult is long-attested and her name was included in the Roman Canon of the Mass. It is no coincidence that she was buried in the catacombs of St. Callixtus, in a special place, showing the high dignity and consideration that were reserved for her: next to the "crypt of the Popes," the place where 9 popes and 8 bishops of the third century are buried. The Saint remained buried in the catacombs until 821 when Pope Paschal I had her body transported to Trastevere, in the basilica dedicated to her. In 1599, on the occasion of the upcoming Jubilee of 1600, during the restoration, ordered by Cardinal Paolo Emilio Sfondrati, a surprisingly well-preserved sarcophagus with the body of the martyr was found. The Cardinal commissioned the sculptor Stefano Maderno to make the statue we are admiring today: it had to reproduce as faithfully as possible the appearance and position of the body of Saint Cecilia as it had been found, with the head halfway turned, with the evident sign of the cut on the neck because of the beheading and with the right-hand fingers indicating the number three (the Trinity) and the left-hand’s the number one (the One God).
Since then, this magnificent statue has welcomed all those who visit the Roman church, in perpetual remembrance of the great faith of this young woman, Cecilia, who was able to bear witness to Christ to the point of giving her life.
We know that she was of a noble family and that she was promised to be married to the noble Valerian, who, thanks to the testimony of her bride, converted to Christianity. The young woman had a lot of influence in the Roman Christian community between the second and third centuries: friend and benefactress of several popes, she had the particular gift of being very convincing when announcing the Christian message, as she obtained a large number of conversions.
All this turned the Roman authorities against her to the point that, during one of the periodic persecutions of Christians, her husband first and then Cecilia herself were imprisoned, tortured and martyred. Her liturgical feast was celebrated as early as in 545, in the church dedicated to her in Trastevere, Rome.
The laying body sculpted in marble by Maderno seems almost to symbolise the young woman's dedication to God. We do not see her face, but her neck scarred by a stroke of the sword. The cloth covering her face almost seems to shelter her beauty, now transfigured by martyrdom. The simple and regular folds of her robe make her real. Her right hand, stretched out beyond the marble base towards us spectators, with three fingers indicating the Trinity, is the gift that this young woman, in her vigorous testimony, leaves perpetually to the whole Church.