The legend of St. Cecilia is not so tragic as that of St. Catherine. According to the story, Cecilia was a beautiful young girl who belonged to a noble Roman family of the third century.

Her parents were Christians in secret, and they brought her up in the faith. She was a most devout scholar. Night and day she carried about with her a roll containing the Gospel, hidden within her robe. She excelled in music, and turned her good gift to the glory of God; for she composed hymns which she sang with such sweetness, that it was said the very angels descended from heaven to join their voices with hers.

Not only did she sing, but she played also on all instruments; but she could find none which satisfied her desire to breathe forth the harmony which dwelt within her, and so she invented a new one, the forerunner of the organ, and she consecrated it to the service of God.

St. Cecilia like St. Catherine was a martyr, but the executioner who was to put her to death was so affected by her innocence that his hand trembled, and the wounds he made did not immediately cause her death. She lived for three days, and as the story says:—

"She spent (these days) in prayers and exhortations to the converts, distributing to the poor all she possessed; and she called to her St. Urban, and desired that her house, in which she then lay dying, should be converted into a place of worship for the Christians. Thus, full of faith and charity, and singing with her sweet voice praises and hymns to the last moment, she died at the end of three days."

Very naturally, St. Cecilia was taken as the patron saint of musicians, and is sometimes represented as seated at a modern organ. In this picture she is shown holding in her hands an instrument of reeds, which may be taken as the beginning of the organ of later days.

Her eyes are raised, and her head is upturned as she listens to the choir of angels shown above in the clouds, their lips parted as they sing from open books. She holds the instrument, but she is so intent on the music she hears that it seems almost slipping from her hands.

Indeed, some of the tubes are already dropping out of their place; and as the eye follows them, it rests upon a number of other musical instruments lying on the ground,—the pipe, the violin, the tambourine, castanets, and others. It is as if we were shown the various instruments which she had set aside as not satisfying to her, and at last were shown her organ itself falling to pieces and dropping from her hands. So faint and imperfect, the painter seems to say, are all these forms of earthly music when compared with the heavenly.

ST. CECILIA Bologna Gallery 
Bologna Gallery

St. Cecilia is here in a company of other saints, not indeed of her day and generation, but chosen by Raphael to give expression to various ideas and sentiments. St. Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles, stands in a thoughtful attitude, one hand carrying a scroll and resting on the hilt of a sword; for in one of his epistles, he speaks of "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." He is listening, and at the same time looks down upon the instruments as if he were thinking how his earthly words, too, were dull beside the voice of the Spirit.

On the opposite side of the picture is Mary Magdalene. She holds the pot of ointment with which she anointed the feet of Christ, and by the movement of her feet she seems just to have come into the scene, and looks out of the picture as if she were bidding us and all other spectators look on the saint and listen to the angels. Perhaps the artist, in choosing her for one of his figures, was mindful of the words of the Lord, who praised her for bringing a precious gift, without thinking of its worth, simply because she loved him, and wished to show her devotion. So St. Cecilia poured out her music, the richest gift she had, not thinking how she could turn it into money and give it to the poor.

Next to St. Paul, behind him and St. Cecilia, stands the evangelist St. John. Painters and scholars alike have always seen in this figure the beloved disciple, the one who leaned on the Lord's breast at the last supper, and they delight to show him as a young man of refined and beautiful countenance. His hand, with the parted fingers, seems to make a gesture bidding one listen, and his face has a look of rapture. It was natural indeed that Raphael should thus have placed in the company one whose gospel is full of feeling, the life of Christ set to music as it were.

Finally, we have St. Augustine, one of the Fathers of the church, standing in his priestly robe and holding a bishop's crook. He is apparently exchanging glances with St. John. Perhaps he is designed to show that the church makes much of music in its service.

If we could see the painting itself with its beautiful color, we should see even more distinctly not only how Raphael thought out his design, making his figures all have a harmonious relation to one another, but how perfectly the composition, in its lines, its light and color, expresses this musical harmony of heaven and earth.