Saint Cecilia is the heart and soul of this great church, the only cathedral in the United States dedicated to the patron saint of music and musicians. She is also honored as the patron of the Omaha Archdiocese. Her feast is celebrated on November 22.
Cecilia was a Roman noblewoman who most likely lived sometime during the late second century to the middle of the third century. Having pledged herself to Christ, she converted her husband on the night of their arranged marriage. According to legend, she filled her heart with a song to God asking for divine help in preserving her chastity. This has ensured her traditional association with music, and especially the organ. Her husband, Valerian, converted his brother and they became active in the Christian community. Sentenced to death, the brothers converted their executioner, and all three were martyred. After Cecilia buried them in a single tomb, she was herself condemned. During her protracted death from an ax wound, she prayed and taught, offered encouragement to her fellow Christians, left her possession to the poor, and indicated that her house should be dedicated as a church.
The presence of Saint Cecilia in our Cathedral:
Her exterior statue in pure white Carrara marble crowns the west facade, high above the great bronze doors.
Within the Cathedral, the magnificent rose window fills the choir loft with light washed in patrician red, white, gold and cerulean blue. The window portrays Cecilia as a young woman, serene and confident, the center of a symphony of praiseful music. At the center of the modified quatrefoil is the figure of the virgin martyr, crowned with traditional red and white roses. She holds an open psalter inscribed: "Let every spirit praise the Lord" (Psalm 150). Children of the earthly choir and angels of the heavenly choir surround Saint Cecilia. At her feet is the text from the first antiphon at the Office of Matins on her feast: "At the sound of musical instruments, the virgin Cecilia sang to God in her heart."
Gazing from the choir loft, as Cecilia seems to do from the rose window, along the length of the vaulted nave to the high altar, the saint's presence imbues the space with an air of reverence and inspiration. On the side walls, high in the entablature, are gilded antiphons from the Divine Office for the feast of Saint Cecilia:
Alleluja--Alleluja, Dum aurora finem daret, Caecilia exlamavit dicens:
Eja, milites Christi, abjicite opera tenabrarum et induimini arma lucis.
(Alleluia--Alleluia, as dawn was breaking into day, Cecilia cried out saying:
Courage, soldiers of Christ, cast away the deeds of darnmess and put ye on the armor of light.) (north wall)
Cantanibus organis Caecilia Domino decantabat dicens:
Fiat cor meum Immaculatum, ut non confundar. Alleluja--Alleluja.
(While the musical instruments were playing, Cecilia sang unto the Lord saying:
Let my heart be undefiled that I be not ashamed. Alleluia--Alleluia.) (south wall)
Completing this radiant halo of Saint Cecilia is the prayer above the altar:
The apex of the marble baldachin seems to point to the plea leafed in gold:
Sancta Caecilia, Virgo Martyr, ora pro nobis.
(Saint Cecilia, virgin and martyr, pray for us.)
An excerpt from John Dryden's Song for Saint Cecilia's Day (1687) is painted on the walls of the nave and organ bellows room. The saint's tomb had been rediscovered in Rome in 1599, and this led to an intense interest among seventeenth-century painters and composers. In England, music tributes to Saint Cecilia took on an original form in 1683 with the founding of The Musical Society. This assembly of gentlemen lovers of music and teachers and masters of art celebrated her feast day each year by staging a service and concert to promote the progress of "this divine Science," according to the words of a contemporary. Dryden, R.S. (1631-1700) was an English poet laureate and dramatist who converted to Catholicism in 1686. His words continue to resound in this church:
"But Bright Cecilia Rais'd the Wonder Higher: When to Her Organ Vocal Breath Was Given,
An Angel Heard, and Straint Appear'd--Mistaking Earth for Heaven."
This programme of references to Saint Cecilia encircles the sanctuary with themes of her purity, piety, faith, and courage, mediating her spirit through literary and visual art. Saint Cecilia Cathedral is further graced by music--liturgy, special events, and the voice of the faithful--her heavenly and earthly choirs filling this space with harmony and holy love.
~The Beauty of Thy House, 2005