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Brisbane photo journalist captures the beauty and rich history of Basilica of Santa Cecilia in Rome

Saintly creation: The statue of St Cecilia, crafted by Stefano Maderno in 1600, occupies the prime position in front of the high altar.

Brisbane photo journalist Alan Edgecomb was inspired by a recent visit to the Basilica of Santa Cecilia in Rome. This is the story of his visit in words and pictures.

ST Cecilia lived in a small neighbourhood on the right bank of the Tiber River in Rome in the 3rd  century.

She was a noble Roman girl and a fervent Christian, and was engaged to Valerian who was a pagan.

After their wedding, Valerian and his brother Tiburtius converted to Christianity and was baptised by Pope Urban.

Valerian and Tiburtius were active in the early Christian community including the proper burial of martyrs while St Cecilia spent her time preaching.

The Prefect of Rome, who persecuted the Christians had Valerian and Tiburtius beheaded and condemned Cecilia to death.

The executioner struck her three times but was unable to decapitate her so he left her bleeding and she died three days later.

Deep dwellings: The crypt under the basilica links various 2nd Century dwellings.

She was buried in the Catacomb of San Callisto, while Valerian and Tibertius were buried in the Catacomb of Pretestato.

St Cecilia is the patron saint of music and her feast is celebrated on November 22.

The current Basilica of Santa Cecilia was built in the 9th century and had further restorations in the 18th century and 20th century.

The church is built in the Baroque style with a typical basilica layout, a central nave, no transept and two side aisles. 

The aisles are separated by 13 arches divided by columns that are now hidden inside pillars.

The bell tower was added and aportico constructed in the 12th and 13th century. 

The semi-circular apse contains a magnificent 9th century mosaic of seven figures. 

Christ-centred: The 9th Century mosaic in the apse has Christ in the centre with Pope Paschal I, St Cecilia and St Paul on the left, and St Peter, St Valerian and St Agatha on the right. The palms at each side are symbols of Eden and the phoenix represents immortality.

Christ is in the centre with Pope Paschal I, St Cecilia and St Paul on the left, and St Peter, St Valerian and St Agatha on the right. 

In front of the altar is a 16th century sculpture, by Baroque artist Stefano Maderno, of Cecilia’s incorrupt body as it was found when exhumed in 1599.

Contorted and yet somehow graceful, the statue is highly unusual and has great emotional impact.

The statue depicts the three axe strokes described in the 5th century account of her martyrdom.

The crypt was enlarged and modernised at the beginning of the 20th century and now contains the relics of St Cecilia and her husband St Valerian.

Sacred space: The modernisation of the crypt in the early 20th Century has transformed the area to create a wonderful sacred space. Urns containing the remains of martyrs are under the altar.

In the apse of the crypt are the remains of an altar with an inscription that indicates it was dedicated by Pope Gregory VII on June 3, 1080.

Next to the crypt are the ruins of two ancient Roman houses, with mosaic pavements and early Christian sarcophagi.

Copyright: words and photos by Alan Edgecomb

alan@purplemoonphotography.com.au

Written by: Guest Contributor
Catholic Church Insurance

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