Francis of Assisi vs. Cecilia

Today Francis of Assisi takes on Cecilia and Lent Madness voters everywhere are forced to choose between animals and music. Okay, that's just the superficial choice. It's really a choice between your childhood rabbit and your mother who sang in the church choir. The winner will face Thecla in the Elate Eight, thereby finalizing the first matchup of the next round.

Yesterday Frederick Douglass solidly defeated Juan Diego 60% to 40% to advance. Click here to see the fully updated bracket (scroll down for links to all the previous matchups including Francis' first round victory over John Wycliffe and Cecilia's defeat of Balthazar). 

We also gave you an opportunity to vote (it's what we're all good at!) for 2013 Golden Halo winner Frances Perkins to appear on the $20 bill. And, no, the SEC hasn't started printing its own purple money -- this is an initiative of the U.S. Treasury Department.

2-st-francis-of-assisi-randy-wollenmannFrancis of Assisi

The Francis of ideas is often quite different from his actual life, ministry, and words. We envision him as a quiet man surrounded by animals who founded a gentle monastic order. In reality, Francis lived his life with a holy blend of rashness, mysticism, and devotion many modern Christians would call extreme.

G.K. Chesterton notes the Bishop of Assisi, when visiting the Order and seeing them without comforts, without possessions, eating anything they could get, and sleeping on the ground, was greatly disturbed. Francis met the Bishop’s concerns with a stunning in-your-face-ness (bishops were often called upon to support military engagements) by saying, 'If we had any possessions, we should need weapons and laws to defend them.”

Francis wasn’t even his baptismal name; Giovanni was. Francis, the 12th century version of “Frenchy,” was given to him allegedly because Francis was passionate about French Troubadour poetry. While Francis did write in poetic style, he didn’t write the poetic "Prayer of St. Francis." He did, however, write this prayer of faithful hope:

Almighty, eternal, and merciful God,
grant us in our misery the grace
to do for You alone
what we know You want us to do,
and always
to desire what pleases You.

Francis is often quoted as saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” And while Francis did preach the Gospel in word and deed, no record attributes this quote to him. In fact, Francis was a prolific preacher to all creation. He is recorded in Little Flowers of St. Francis as preaching to the birds…using words. The anonymous writer tells: “Francis began to preach. He ordered the swallows, who were calling, to keep silence until he had finished; and the swallows obeyed his voice.”

Francis asked his companions to wait while he went to “preach to my little sisters the birds’; and entering into the field, he began to preach to the birds which were on the ground, and suddenly all those also on the trees came round him, and all listened while St Francis preached to them, and did not fly away until he had given them his blessing.”

In 1224, Francis was engaged in deep prayer when he received the Stigmata. Between the Stigmata and the physical toll from a life of denial, Francis retired to San Damiano, where he composed one of his most famous prayers, The Canticle of Brother Sun, considered the first poem written in the Italian language. Its words celebrate creation -- all creation. We read in it, “No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name. Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures.”

Chesterton writes of Francis: “His life was one riot of rash vows; of rash vows that turned out right.”

We give thanks for a man whose real life of rashness, mysticism, and devotion still gives us an example of a life lived in Christ’s love.

Laurie Brock


Cecilia is the patron saint of singers, musicians, organists, and poets. While witnessing the deaths of her husband and brother-in-law, it is believed that she was singing praises to the Lord during her own martyrdom in Rome in 280 AD.

The songs that Cecilia sang while she was being martyred have been lost to the ages. However, the many poems and songs written and performed in her honor remain great contributions to the literary and music world, and are firmly planted in society’s juke box over the centuries.

Henry Purcell’s 1692 “Hail! Bright Cecilia,” also known as “Ode to St. Cecilia,” has a text by Nicholas Brady:

Hail! Bright Cecilia, Hail to thee!
 Great Patroness of Us and Harmony! 
Who, whilst among the Choir above
 Thou dost thy former Skill improve,
 With Rapture of Delight dost see
 Thy Favourite Art 
Make up a Part
 Of infinite Felicity.
 Hail! Bright Cecilia, Hail to thee!
 Great Patroness of Us and Harmony!

Equally famous is Georg Friedrich Händel’s “An Ode For St. Cecilia’s Day,” from 1739. With words by Newburgh Hamilton:

But bright Cecilia raised the wonder high'r:
 When to her organ, vocal breath was giv'n,
 An angel heard, and straight appear'd,
Mistaking earth for Heav'n.

In 1941, at the beginning of World War II, the Andrews Sisters sang, in full harmony, “The Shrine of St. Cecilia”:

Our home is a shambles, all I treasured has gone
The town seems deserted, everyone's so forlorn
A storm came from up above but somehow it missed
The shrine of Saint Cecilia

I kneel in my solitude and silently pray
That heaven will protect you, dear, and there'll come a day
The storm will be over and that we'll meet again
At the shrine of Saint Cecilia

Benjamin Britten’s famous “Hymn to St Cecilia” was sparked by many reasons, among them that he was born on St Cecilia's day. Written in 1942 Britten’s piece is based on the renowned poet W. H. Auden’s Hymn to St. Cecilia:

Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions
To all musicians, appear and inspire:
Translated Daughter, come down and startle
Composing mortals with immortal fire.

It is reported that Paul Simon claims his famous “Cecilia” refers to our saint, in her role as muse:

Cecilia, you’re breaking my heart
, You’re shaking my confidence daily. 
Oh, Cecilia, I’m down on my knees, 
I’m begging you please to come home

Simon refers to Cecilia in another of his songs, “The Coast”:

A family of musicians took shelter for the night in the little harbor church of St. Cecilia.

In 1966, Michael Hurd composed "A Hymn to Saint Cecilia" based on John Dryden's 1687 visually stirring poem, A Song for St. Cecilia's Day:

Orpheus could lead the savage race;
And trees unrooted left their place,
Sequacious of the lyre;
But bright Cecilia rais'd the wonder higher:
When to her organ vocal breath was given,
An angel heard, and straight appear'd
Mistaking Earth for Heaven.

There are numerous others through the ages who have written and composed pieces to St. Cecilia. Based on poems and music, whether old and modern, there’s no way around it – Cecilia is one popular gal!

Neva Rae Fox


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135 comments on “Francis of Assisi vs. Cecilia”

  1. I love music! I just started singing in the church choir at the age of 68 and it is the highlight of my week. I am a Lutheran and think Bach is one of the best reasons for being Lutheran. Still, St. Francis of Assisi has always been my favorite saint, because I feel he followed most closely the example of Jesus.

    1. I'll second that sentiment about Bach and Lutheranism. If I ever converted from Anglicanism, it would be to Lutheranism, but there's not much chance of that, now that the differences between the two are negligible and I can do all the Bach I want in an Episcopal church.

  2. My favorite Cecelia hymn is one we sang with the Alma College Choirs:

    Consecrate the place and day to Music and Cecilia!
    Consecrate the place and day!
    Let no rough winds approach, nor dare invade these hallowed grounds,
    Nor rudely shake the tuneful air, nor spoil the fleeting, fleeting sounds
    No mournful sigh nor groan be heard, but gladness dwell on every tongue,
    Whilst all with voice and strings prepar'd, keep the loud harmonious song.
    And imitate the blest above in joy and harmony.
    Consecrate, consecrate joy and harmony!
    Joy, harmony, and Love!
    --Hymn for St. Cecilia's Day by Joseph Addison

  3. Just as we must remember that St. Francis is much more than a birdbath, so too must we recognize that Cecilia's life (and death) was about much more than music, as wonderful as music is. She spread the Gospel at a time when doing so really and truly meant risking everything; she, her husband and her brother-in-law lost their lives because of it. I think that Francis, as a writer himself, is more of a natural for the "Quirks and Quotes" round. You can't do justice to the ministry of a 3rd century martyr with poems and lyrics that refer to her as the patron saint of musicians. While recognizing Francis' many contributions, my vote goes to Cecilia.

  4. As Laurie Brock writes today, "In reality, Francis lived his life with a holy blend of rashness, mysticism, and devotion many modern Christians would call extreme." I looked into this claim some more to see how Francis set himself and his followers against some of the currents of their time. For instance, instead of defining a religious order that kept to itself in monasteries, the Friars were sent out into the world as mendicants so that they would get to know ordinary people and understand as well as minister to them. They fostered religious art so as to make the Gospel more accessible to all. During that time when the Church was engaging in violent Crusades, Francis believed instead that it was important to try to engage Muslims in rational dialogue. Finally, in a strongly patriarchal society, Francis "came to understand that he was spiritually both male and female. . . Francis sometimes called himself 'mother' and in the presence of the Pope, related a dream in which he received assurance that God would feed his Friars, as a mother feeds her children. . . . He passionately believed in the universal sisterhood and brotherhood of all people." ( In many ways he would, I suspect, still seem radical to many living today.

  5. I must choose Francis, for he had the quality of "in-your-face-ness" that I truly believe that I need...and that the modern church does, too.

  6. It is time and past time we recognized all of Creation as our sisters and brothers. What our Earth might look like if we all strove to 'preach' the way Francis did!

  7. I was always gonna vote St Francis -- and did -- but I have to say the effort put in to researching St Cecelia music history almost swayed me. Nice write-up, Celebrity Blogger!

  8. Both saints have contributed greatly to our Christian heritage. We wouldn't be who we are without either of them, and its Francis for me hands down. His embrace of all creatures and his rashness-Lord give me that faith!

  9. Maybe it's time to dethrone the insane but popular mystic who wouldn't care for his brothers basic needs. Why not a courageous young martyr who loved singing . . . Like the angel choir. Go, Cecilia!

    1. Francis did have a wart or two, didn't he? (smile) I guess we all do. I, too, voted Cecilia today although it seems Francis' gentle vs. rash side will win over!

  10. Not really a tough one for me. Music allows the message of Christ to be heard and felt across the universe. From Miriam to Cecelia and lets not forget all the singing in the Gospel of Luke - where would Christianity be without music?

  11. 'Though partial to my namesake saint, my vote goes to Saint Francis (who would probably give away the Golden Halo) because of his exemplary love of God and creation.

  12. Even though I voted for St. Cecilia, it's going to be hard to beat St. Francis. Almost not fair.

  13. Oh, Cecelia, you're breaking my heart! I want to vote for you so badly, but must go with Francis the troubadour. Perhaps you startled him with composing fire. Please continue to startle all of us musicians.

  14. I serve a parish dedicated to Francis and am becoming yet more shaped by his witness through the teaching of RC Franciscan, Richard Rohr, whose "Embracing an Alternative Orthodoxy: The Legacy of St. Francis" we are using for our Lenten program this year (check it out on the Church Publishing Group website). I am also a musician, and in honor of Cecilia, I will listen to Britten's wonderful Ode to her today. But my vote goes to Francis.

  15. What a choice! I think my vote goes to Francis for many reasons. Attributed quotes not withstanding, he is a role model for how to live out a life following Jesus. To love all life, to preach more without words, to be gentle and kind, to live without possessions (how they get in the way) ...revolutionary! Music will always be a large part of my worship, and we will always have music, muse, Cecilia or not. But how we live our lives, ah! That is the challenge.

  16. Today's matchup is not fair, SEC! I am so torn. Love them all, animals, birds, music. Had to go with St. Francis.

  17. Thanks to Simon and Garfunkle and Ceclilia, I have a serious ear worm today. No wonder I had to go with Francis today.

  18. I have always loved a story I read once about St. Francis in which he gave away all his fine clothes and walked into the street in his birthday suit, to his father's ire and mortification. Gotta love that! Still, I cannot worship without music, and even though my voice is going (and this is a great sorrow and challenge to me), "I'll sing on, I'll sing on"--and vote for St. Cecilia!

  19. Cecilia for me - for my granddaughter and for my son the musician, for the deep prayer and love that can be felt and shared in music.
    But I really won't mind Francis winning, either!

  20. Wasn't that sticky-sweet Victorian song "Drink to me only with thine eyes" actually titled "To Cecelia?

  21. Once again how do we pick between two amazing Saints - sigh. In the end had to go with Francis ...... But it was with Simon & Garfunkle playing in my head.

  22. While I do love music and consider it a form of prayer, I also love the inclusiveness and revolutionary theology of Francis. So Francis it is for me.

  23. "His life was one riot of rash vows; of rash vows that turned out right" - Lord, let that be true for me as well.

  24. Francis for me. I've been a fan for decades-- not just because of the critters-- but because of the revolution France brought to the church.

  25. I adore Francis, but I need all the help I can get, big concert coming up on the 21st at Christ Church Plymouth.... My very first biggie ever...

  26. If St. Francis didn't write the Prayer, who did? One of my most treasured memories is singing that piece in the Concert Choir at my college graduation, and then hearing it sung at my first ordination as a United Methodist clergy. (In those olden days in 1980 we were first ordained Deacon, served at least two years under supervision, then were ordained Elder.) Anyway, based on his being my favorite saint, who has inspired me more than any other, I could not do anything except vote for him! He followed so completely in the steps of Jesus.

  27. The match up this week have been hard but this one is just cruel! I have been an animal advocate my whole life, disappointed the Christian church often limits its focus to people and not the sentient being world and our environment. BUT I am also a full-time musician so St Cecelia is near and dear to my heart. Still- the animal advocacy (or love from my youth) will win out. How terrible to have to choose!

  28. Music is what draws me into the heart of God more than most anything. So, forget all the profane music written about a girl named Cecelia, the matron
    saint of music gets my vote, even over the patron saint of my city.