Balthazar vs. Cecilia

In the final battle of a week filled with saintly thrills and spills, Balthazar squares off against Cecilia. And you, yes YOU, get to decide whether to vote against Christmas pageants or against church choirs. So good luck with that. Actually, both saints have inspired many people over the generations -- from those who love frankincense, to those who are allergic to it; from those with melodic voices to the tone deaf.

Yesterday's hotly contested battle between Egeria and Hildegard of Bingen ended with the bracket-busting Egeria edging out Hildegard by the slimmest of margins, 51% to 49%. With almost 6,800 votes cast, Egeria prevailed by less than 140. See, your (single) vote counts!

While we've had our share of nail biters over the years, this ranks up there and was the first truly close battle of Lent Madness 2015. And the comments. The comments! We set a record for most comments ever with nearly 370. Kudos to the commenters!

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The story of the Three Wise Men is a beloved part of Christmas crèches and pageants, albeit exercising a bit of editorial license. In Matthew’s Gospel, the text only says that sages and magi traveled from the East to find the infant King — not how many there were or what their names were.

Nonetheless, over time, tradition has narrowed the number of the Eastern travelers down to three and assigned them names — one of which is Balthazar. (In many medieval depictions of the Wise Men, Balthazar is depicted as a young African man). Aside from his presence in Matthew’s story, we don’t know much about Balthazar. He’s a mysterious figure, along with Melchior and Caspar, the other two kings named by tradition. The story goes that they brought frankincense, myrrh, and gold to the baby, carried all the way from the distant lands of Africa, Asia, and Europe.The kings were warned in a dream not to return to the genocidal King Herod, so they headed for home by a different path.

At some point, Balthazar and the other kings were martyred and buried, but we aren’t quite sure where. The explorer Marco Polo thought they were near Tehran, while Saint Helena thought she had found them in Palestine, along with the true cross, and brought everything with her to be enshrined at the Hagia Sophia. When Constantinople fell, the kings were moved to Milan, then Germany. You can now see what are believed to be Balthazar’s bones at a cathedral in Cologne, Germany.

But here is where the story gets really good.

It’s easy to dismiss Balthazar’s story as medieval hagiographic fan fiction. Yet alongside these Western Christian stories ran traditions from within Ethiopia and within Central and Southeast Asia, which traced their Christianity back to the return from Bethlehem of theWise Men. In 1243, Sempad, the elder brother of the Armenian king wrote a letter to his sister, Queen Stephanie of Cyprus, saying “Tanchat [Tangut, or Western Xia], which is the land from whence came the Three Kings to Bethlem [sic] to worship the Lord Jesus which was born. And know that the power of Christ has been, and is, so great, that the people of that land are Christians; and the whole land of Chata [Khitai, or Kara-Khitai] believes those Three Kings. I have myself been in their churches and have seen pictures of Jesus Christ and the Three Kings, one offering gold, the second frankincense, and the third myrrh. And it is through those Three Kings that they believe in Christ, and that the Chan and his people have now become Christians.”

At the time of Christ, the trade routes of present-day India, China, Egypt, and Ethiopia, all flowed through Jerusalem, so it’s not unreasonable to imagine that a curious young trader heard of an unusual baby, grabbed some friends, and decided to go investigate.

What is clear, however, is that his investigations, and the fruit of his travels, changed the world.

Collect for Balthazaar
Lord God, you set the stars in motion and give us wisdom. Bless us this day with the curiosity of Balthazar, that we would seek your will and know your ways, even as those signs pointing toward them would lead us over and beyond the horizons of familiarity. Make us restless to seek your face and your kingdom, knowing that resting in your knowledge and love is to truly come home. Bless all those who travel, and all those who seek the truth as part of their journey. Amen.

-- Megan Castellan


Cecilia is the patron saint of singers, musicians, and poets. She was martyred in Rome in the third century. Finding historically factual information regarding her life is a real heartbreaker and can shake the confidence of even the most devoted researcher.

Nevertheless, it is believed that Cecilia was born into nobility and privilege. She was a woman of strong faith and was credited with converting four hundred people. She was married to a pagan named Valerian. With Cecilia’s faith as a living example, Valerian and his brother Tiburtius, along with Maximus, a Roman soldier, were converted. After their baptism, the two brothers devoted themselves to burying the martyrs who were being slain daily. In about 230 CE, the brothers were arrested for practicing their faith. They were executed—and while she was burying her husband and brother-in-law, Cecilia was arrested.

There were several unsuccessful efforts to slay Cecilia, including stabbing, suffocation, and attempts at beheading, but she clung to life. After three days, she died as a result of the injuries.

Many reports tell of Cecilia’s courage and unfailing faith, revealing that she sang praises to God throughout her torment and slow death, hence her musical connection.

Cecilia is among the most famous and honored of the Roman martyrs. Since at least the fifth century, a church named in her honor has been located on the site of ruins believed to have been her home.

Cecilia is widely depicted in art, from paintings and sculptures to stained glass and mosaics and of course, music. Musical works by the greats — Handel, Purcell, Gounod, and Britten, and even contemporary artists such as Paul Simon, The Andrews Sisters, and Blue Oyster Cult, draw on Cecilia’s life and legacy as part of their own expressions. John Dryden, Alexander Pope, and W. H. Auden are among the great poets whose works honor Cecilia. Musical societies and choirs are also frequently named in her honor, including the National Academy of Saint Cecilia. In some places, concerts are presented on her feast day, which is November 22.

Collect for Cecilia
Most gracious God, whose blessed martyr Cecilia sang in her heart to strengthen her witness to you: We give you thanks for the makers of music whom you have gifted with Pentecostal fire; and we pray that we may join with them in creation’s song of praise until at the last, with Cecilia and all your saints, we come to share in the song of those redeemed by our Savior Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

-- Neva Rae Fox


Balthazaar vs. Cecilia

  • Cecilia (74%, 3,871 Votes)
  • Balthazaar (26%, 1,390 Votes)

Total Voters: 5,261

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225 comments on “Balthazar vs. Cecilia”

    1. And God sang to Balthazar after worshiping his son "Take The Long Way Home"...

      So, even though Cecilia is breaking hearts, I am voting for Balthazar

    2. The grandmother who died right after my birth was Cecelia, and I have in choirs nearly all my life. But Balthazar was a courageous young man who set on a journey "where no person has gone before." He had the brass to seek the truth to what had been forecast.

    3. My vote is for Cecilia, even though I loved James Earl Jones's portrayal of Balthzar in Franco Zefferelli's "Jesus of Nazareth." I want my vote to go to more than a lovely wisp of imagination.

    1. I, too, was singing it out loud in my cubicle as I voted for her! As a former (and terrible, hence the former) musician, I knew which of these two called to my heart - Cecilia!

    2. Ok, that was funny. 😀

      Still, I went with Balthazar. Rumor (yet another) indicates that he came from Sumeria where wise men and astrologers knew of the birth of a king long before it happened. Even though there is not much in the way of a history for the three wise guys, I do believe at least one of them came from this area and that his cohorts were also wise men and astrologers who likewise had forecast the birth of this baby. I honor Cecilia but Balthazar and his buds are my pick.

      1. Thank you for sharing a few more fascinating facts about Balthazar.
        This was close, but music has swayed me to Cecilia.

      2. I'm with Lea,
        Balthazar's life and travels are mysterious and remind me that I too am on a journey (Lent) and it is mysterious how God can act in our lives, thus I vote for him.

      3. I had to go with Balthazar, too. If only because I knew Cecelia would garner the lions share of the votes, and I want Balthazar to have a respectable following. Also, anyone who follows yonder star to honor a baby in a manger, is OK by me.

        1. i also voted for Balthazar and his fellow travelers. Even though tradition puts them in the manger after the birth of Christ Jesus, it is more likely that they found him in a home one or two years later, after His birth. That is why Herod ordered all male children 2 and under to be slain. Also, i saw the program on EWTN, the catholic television station, about the Star of Bethlehem. It is believed now that at the time of Christ Jess' birth, Jupiter was in retrograde with Venus behind it. That is why it was so bright in the night-time sky and that it appeared to stop. This is the miracle: that when the Lord God put the universe in motion, he set the planets and stars in order so that at this moment in time, Christ's birth would be announced to the astrologers and Maji, through the positions of the stars and planets!! Praise be to Lord God, King of the Universe, and to His Son, Christ Jesus, and to the Holy Spirit!!

          1. Here! Here! Carol Friendly, with violins and trumpets! Would you believe we (The Shoreline Chorale on its first and only trip to Europe) sang in the Koln Cathedral a rousing rendition of the Negro Spiritual -- "I Want to Meet My Maker" in harmony and overlapping rounds. It made some people cry. Honor bright. ... No wise cracking!

    3. I want to know more about that Andrews Sisters connection. Did Cecelia have an apple tree experience? My late mother-in-law was named Cecelia and was born on Nov. 22nd. She was indeed a saint. Thus, I vote for her!

    4. I'm with you on that!! I have been singing "Cecelia" way too loud for the Christian Ed office walls to contain the "joyful noise!"

    5. Whispering? I wish. That tune will be running around in my head until .....well, until another one takes its place.

  1. My vote is for Cecilia, purely for the Blue Oyster Cult reference. Any patron saint that influenced more cow bell, gets my vote.

    1. Too funny, when I read the name "Balthazaar" I thought of Blue Oyster Cult's E.T.I. But I came down on the side of Cecelia (and I've had E.T.I. in my head all day)

    2. There's a picture of St. Cecilia in the choir rehearsal room (aptly named for her) at my church. She is in fact holding what appears to be a cow bell. Her presence didn't seem to help me stay in tune but I'm voting for her anyway. LOL

  2. Music takes breath, time;
    Cecilia, deprived of both,
    sang in her heart.

    To sing while dying would be a glorious--not mention operatic--way to go! Cecilia gets this aging chorister's vote.

    1. i too must vote for Cecilia. While in Rome a few years ago, I saw the sculpture done of her incorruptible body. It is on display at her church. The sculpture is eerie in that it is very realistic. Looking at someone so young and yet willing to suffer so much took my breath away. Also, her church is built over her home which was said to be an early Christian gathering place/ church. Before today I was a lurker. I was the first vote today. Did I break the system?

  3. Sorry SEC - These are kinda fairy tale - ishy 'saints - just didn't buy these two as worthy of the opportunity to be even remotely considered for the Golden Halo - So there you go, one women's opinion.

    1. Agreed! This is one match-up that needs a " c) none of the above" option. I leave this one to the rest of you.

  4. After Hildegard's narrow loss yesterday to the well-deserving pilgrim Egeria, it's up to Cecilia to represent the celestial choirs into the Saintly Sixteen -- she's got my vote!

  5. Church choirs! One of my favorite ministries. (Also, Cecelia is a Roman, and that makes her special, on my heart.)

    1. Indeed! This was a no-brainer for me, being a humble member of the choir at St. Cecelia's Parish. I'm hoping for a golden halo for Cecelia.

  6. So lemme see... Someone who probably didn't exist versus someone who probably did but there's not a lot to go on. I'm not complainin' but.... Sure wish we could have more match ups with real bonafide human saints!

    1. Cecilia's crypt and body exists in Rome. When it was opened, her body, the way it was viewed was sculpted. Her body showed the cuts on her neck. There is also archeological evidence that her house exists. I've been to her original crypt in the catacombs in Rome. It clearly has her name in Latin. Maybe some of her story has been exaggerated through the ages but she clearly existed.

  7. so, the website is bogging down and my vote won't go through. Page has crashed twice in trying. My guess is the choirs and musicians of the world are trying to give Cecilia a lead out of the gate? I'll try later, when the smoke clears.

      1. This was a nice, even match of confirm-ability...
        So we go to the next level, associations. Two very good friends at church have chosen "Cecilia" as their Christian name.
        On the other hand, I was Balthazar in the church Mystery Play this year, and are on very good terms with both our church thurifers and the rectors who request their services... The world would be less without the mild use of incense, and the Nativity less full without the presence of the 3 magi...
        I am also a bit leery of those who would define Christianity by just one or two denominations - Rome is not the center of the church, Christ is. Traditions of other branches of the church need to be honored and remembered.
        Balthazar it is!

  8. I don't know if my vote was counted or not. The link from the email did not work, so went directly to the webpage to read about Balthazar vs. Cecilia. Then, when I voted, was stuck on "loading". So, if the voting is off by one vote, my vote was for Balthazar.
    I have used this as my Lenten Discipline this year. The learning about saints has been inspiring.

  9. As a long-time choir member, I must vote for Cecilia, although the information about Balthazar was fascinating. I always thought he was sort of "made up" during the Middle Ages, but apparently it took that long for his name to make its way from the east into western culture. If his opposite number hadn't been Cecilia, I might just have voted for him.

    1. I'm with you, Carol. It was wonderful to read about the possibility that Balthazar (and maybe the others) were real people and to learn more about the legends of the Magi/Kings.
      But having spent the better part of 60 years--starting quite young in Junior Choir--in church choirs (not to mention the occasional playing for services in a few places) I just had to go with Cecelia.
      Maybe if Balthazar has another opportunity....

  10. Balthazar, another saint invented out of thin air. Oh Cecilia, you're breaking my heart!

    Glad you are back on line. I'm still not getting e mail from you.

  11. I love the collect for Balthazar. I voted for Cecelia, though. Even if the details are fuzzy, she was outspoken and faithful even in danger and praised God to the end.

  12. I have to cast my vote for Cecilia. The fact that she sang as they tried three times to kill her is very moving. AND my Mom, (may she rest in peace), shared the same name. So it's Cecilia all the way!!!!

  13. Still receiving "Error 404 Not Found" on link from email, but able to get around it. Just goes to show you how popular is Lent Madness!

  14. As a life-time choir member, I know that music brings solace, joy, and bolsters us in times of question. I voted for the Balthazar because sometimes curiosity requires courage and it never occurred to me that the three travelers can provide inspiration and example for curiosity's subsequent doubts. In short, I voted for him because I learned something new! Thanks SEC.

  15. I've been singing in choirs since I was "knee-high to a grasshopper" (that's a southern expression, to all you snow-weary northerners) and have a vocal performance degree. The story of Cecilia is sweet but I find Balthazar much more interesting. I've always be fascinated by the stories of the wise men. My vote goes to him.

  16. Balthazar. My father was named after the 3 wise men, yep, makes for an interesting signature. More importantly, through him (them) we have an amazing witness to holy wanderlust

  17. I love music, and of the two candidates, I'm more inclined to believe that Cecilia actually existed, but the wonderful collect made my vote swing over to Balthazaar.

  18. I, too, had some difficulty with possibly fictional characters, but the themes and messages ring true. Cecilia seems more "real" so she has my vote. And besides, I work for a music organization.

  19. As a choir member, soloist, cantor, arranger, etc. I HAVE to vote for the patron saint of musicians and singers. And I am also a fan of Simon and Garfunkel!!!! St. Cecilia gets my vote!

  20. Balthazar, as the representative of those unknown witnesses throughout the life of Christ, gets my vote. Nothing against Cecilia, just it had to be Balthazar. Plus, he has the best name.

  21. Looks like Cecelia will soar through so I'm gonna give a toast to Balthazar. Face it, my bones will never be sought by the Cologne Cathedral and I've done a lot of good and I even exist! (I've also seen the Cologne Cathedral.) Earlier in LM we recognized the great value of persons in scripture despite the the fact they "were dead for most of the time" in their story. Balthazar tops them by having "changed the world" without being alive or dead. So those bones have got my vote. And I trust my choir director will forgive me.

  22. Error 404 just became vote 666 (mine). Someone else vote quickly, please!

  23. I am impressed that Lent Madness traffic exceeded unlimited bandwidth. Surely, that must be some kind of modern miraculous event??? Glad you're back up and running.