Cecilia vs. Juliana of Liege

Saintly Sixteen hump day finds us with Cecilia doing battle with Juliana of Liege. Who will advance? Well, that's up to you.

Yesterday, Thomas of Villanova swept into the Elate Eight with a victory over Hilary of Poitiers 65% to 35%.

And if you missed yesterday's special Tuesday edition of Monday Madness, color us shocked. And then watch it here.


Much of what we know about St. Cecilia is legend.

It even comes to us from a book with “legend” in the title: “The Golden Legend,” a collection of stories of the saints read widely in late medieval Europe that paved the way for Lent Madness.

According to legend, Cecilia’s parents arranged her marriage to a pagan man named Valerian, though she wished to remain celibate. When she heard the music begin at her wedding, she “sang in her heart, only to God, saying: O Lord, I beseech thee that mine heart and body may be undefouled so that I be not confounded.” Long story short: There was a whole thing with an angel, her husband converted, they never consummated their marriage and they ended up martyred for their Christian faith.

That legend has inspired countless artists, poets and musicians over the years to celebrate Cecilia, the patron saint of music, particularly with pieces of music written and performed for her feast day on Nov. 22.

For instance, Cecilia inspired English poet John Dryden to write "A Song for St. Cecilia's Day," which inspired Irish poet Nicholas Brady to write a poem of his own, which inspired English composer Henry Purcell to write “Hail! Bright Cecilia” in 1692. The 13 movements of Purcell’s classical work invoke a number of musical instruments and ask the saint to fill hearers with the love of music, which brings infinite joy and happiness.

It begins:

“Hail! Bright Cecilia, Hail! fill ev'ry Heart
With Love of thee and thy Celestial Art.”

Cecilia inspired George Frideric Handel’s “A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day,” which also drew from Dryden’s poem. The cantata, first performed in 1739, describes music bringing the universe into being. It then delves into Greek mythology, noting that the musician, poet and prophet Orpheus could charm animals and make trees dance with his lyre.

It continues:

“But bright Cecilia raised the wonder higher:
When to her Organ vocal breath was given
An Angel heard, and straight appeared –
Mistaking Earth for Heaven.”

Cecilia inspired yet another pair of composers and poets: English composer Benjamin Britten and British-American poet W.H. Auden collaborated on the choral piece “Hymn to St. Cecilia,” first performed in 1942. Britten had been born on St. Cecilia’s Day and wanted for years to write an ode or song for the occasion.

Britten’s work includes the refrain:

“Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions
To all musicians, appear and inspire.”

Finally, Cecilia, standing in for an inconsistent muse, famously frustrated American folk-pop musician Paul Simon.

He wrote, in Simon & Garfunkel’s 1970 hit “Cecilia”:

“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.

Come on home.”

Emily McFarlan Miller

Juliana of Liege

In this round of quotes and quirks, Juliana of Liège is perhaps the least quirky of all the saints in Lent Madness unless you consider her profound devotion to the Eucharist as the real presence of Jesus in the world. Then again, maybe all mystics are quirky, in that God draws close to them and speaks or reveals divine truths the rest of miss.

In medieval Belgium, she lived a holy life of scholarship, prayer, and service as a Norbertine abbess. She advocated for the recognition of the Feast of Corpus Cristi because of her appreciation of the mystery of Jesus becoming present to the church in the Eucharist–a ubiquitous yet profound miracle. And then, she composed the music for the first Latin office celebrating the feast, known by the first words of the opening antiphon, Animarum cibus.

She suffered tragic loss after loss, first being orphaned, then her twin sister dying. At the age of thirteen, she began working in the hospital for lepers attached to the canonry where she lived. Her mystical visions began soon, summarized in this teaching about the feast day:

“The feast day of Corpus Christi [The Body of Christ] was requested by Our Lord Himself. It was not a feast day that the Church in its wisdom decided to include in the liturgical calendar. It was a feast day, rather, that Jesus requested through extraordinary means by appearing to his servant Saint Juliana, and showing her a moon that He said was symbolic of the liturgical calendar. And the moon had a dark spot in which He said was symbolic of the feast day that was needed, that He wanted, that He requested, the feast day of Corpus Christi. And Saint Juliana said, "But Jesus, we have a feast day, Holy Thursday."

And Our Lord explained to her that…he wanted one special feast day set aside in honor of His Real Presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament. [To remind people that] the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. That this is not a symbol of Jesus, but the reality of Jesus Himself. The same Jesus born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, the same Jesus who died on the cross for our sins, and the same Jesus that rose again on Easter Sunday is really truly, bodily, personally present in the Most Blessed Sacrament.”

After this vision, Juliana networked with all her clerical acquaintances to advocate for the institution of this feast day. Her ministry as a prioress was complicated by the religious and political tensions of the time, and she died in 1258, six years before the feast she fought for was indeed instituted by Pope Urban IV in 1264, but her love for the blessed sacrament lives in in the music she wrote for its veneration, which you can hear here.

Amber Belldene


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104 comments on “Cecilia vs. Juliana of Liege”

    1. Reference missing link in email: I have discovered that it is wise and useful to know at least 2 ways to do any--and--everything!
      A vote for Juliana. The Eucharist, Communion, the Lord's Supper--I long for the day when all Christians can share in this celebration of God's love in Christ together.

  1. In the absence of any real means of choosing between the two, neither of whom excel in the quirks and quotes department, I have voted for Juliana in expectation of her being the under dog. Musical motivations seem strong in Lent Madness. 🙂

  2. I like Cecilia because of her flower crown and because she teached her husband how to be a Christian.

  3. I am a devoted life-long church musician, but I must admit, it's not very moving to me that Cecilia's story is motivated by her desire to remain "unfouled".

    But Juliana's life is animated by the real presence of God in the sacrament of communion, the incredible gift beyond gift that ought to stagger us Christians each time we receive it. Transformative, self-sacrificial love, made real to us in the breaking of the bread!

    It ought to be Juliana today, but I would be surprised if it is.

  4. Juliana gets my vote. Not just for being an historical figure, but for her emphasis on the Eucharist being the Body of Christ. That reminded me of the story of Martin Luther discussing the issue with another theologian (maybe Zwingli?) and writing the words "This is My body" on the surface of the bar.

  5. Just wanted the Supremes to know that no email link existed today for Lent Madness. "No RSS items found." appeared after the header. Fortunately, I remembered http://www.lentmadness.org 🙂 so I was able to go online, read about today's saints and vote.

    1. Same problem (and solution) for me. Now I just have to decide if I vote with my heart or my head.

    2. Me too. Not everyone may be as nimble on their computers, so it might be worthwhile to send it out, though with a proviso that if you have already voted, don't try to do so again....

    3. Same for me. Almost decided not to bother although I knew enough to go directly to the website but then I thought that this matchup mattered to me as others had not, (Getting kind of easy to predict.) So I did the “extra” steps and voted for Cecilia. Sometimes tradition needs to prevail over “real.”

  6. I voted for Juliana. Two reasons Ceclia not wanting to consummate the marriage is one. The other one is I can't vote for someone who is "breaking my heart" and "shaking my confidence daily

  7. I *love* music . . . and I love Saint Juliana’s sublime composition. Thank you for the link! It got Juliana my vote today.

    1. And aren't the lyrics rather racy? He's in bed with Cecilia, leaves the room momentarily, and when he comes back she's with someone else in bed. I don't think Simon and Garfunkel are talking about the same virginal Cecilia.

      1. I believe folks are reading it symbolically. She's there blessing him one minute and gone the next. It's an intriguing interpretation.

        Love Cecilia, but I voted for Julianna, because the story said she said "But Jesus!" And tried to reason with him. That is some kind of saintly courage. And then he gave her an explanation. I wish I could have a conversation like that with the Lord sometimes!

      2. You beat me to it. Indeed, the first line of the Simon & Garfunkel song is: "Making love in the afternoon with Cecelia up in my bedroom." I don't think that they were referring to the chaste St. Cecelia. In fact, even mentioning the S&G song by the blogger has confused a bunch of people into thinking the song is about the saint. For shame -- That is how rumors get started!

      3. Perhaps the new lover in Cecilia's bed/heart is God (symbolically). That said, unless I read that Simon and Garfunkel had been alluding to St. Cecilia ( or the muse of music in their lives) it would never occurred to me that they were singing about the saint.

      4. I think the imagery is about the fickleness of the muse. The same way as "making love" is a metaphor, so is the jumping in and out of beds part.

      5. In the Wikipedia entry about the Paul Simon song, it says this -- the first sentence is footnoted, the source being a book about Simon's songwriting:
        "Simon has suggested that the 'Cecilia' of the title refers to St. Cecilia, patron saint of music in the Catholic tradition, and thus the song might refer to the frustration of fleeting inspiration in songwriting, the vagaries of musical fame or in a wider sense the absurdity of pop culture.[1]... St. Cecilia is mentioned in another Paul Simon song, 'The Coast' (from his 1990 album 'The Rhythm of the Saints'): 'A family of musicians took shelter for the night in the little harbor church of St. Cecilia.'"

  8. I cannot get to the bio and vote section. I have refreshed the page, restarted my device, used another and gone thru the web rather than the e-mail notification. HELP please

  9. "Hear here"? Here here! I voted for Juliana even though the thought of Christ asking for a feast day for himself reminds me of the Knights who say Ni who ask for a shrubbery, "a nice shrubbery, not too expensive." Jesus: "I want a nice solemnity, not too gaudy." I would vote for Auden and Britten, but "they never consummated their marriage"? Hard pass.

    1. I'm with you. I don't want to further condone the notion that carnal love, even in the context of a loving marriage, is dirty and sinful, and that women, in particular, are "befouled" by it. This idea has done so much damage over the centuries. Also, I'm voting forJuliana because I think Amber Belldene has gotten the dud in many prior matchups, and here she found a way to make an unquirky saint engaging to an audience clamoring for quirk. The lovely piece of music at the end clinched it for me ! Well done, Rev. Belldene.

  10. THANKS!!!! What ever happened, it worked! AND I didn’t have to repeatedly tap the vote box to get my choice to show up! Life is good.

  11. Having sung many of these anthems to her, and having been a church musician all my life, I have to vote for my girl Cecilia.

  12. If you tried to access this information from your email - there was nothing there. Had to find it from this page (or thru yesterday's email). Let's hope no-one cries VOTER FRAUD.

    It was a difficult decision - I now have a head ache, cured only by Monday Madness on Tuesday. Even tho today is Wednesday.

  13. As a chorister, I had to go with the patron saint of music. Not to mention she inspired an album for one of my favorite bands - the Foo Fighters. The release of their Saint Cecelia album, according to frontman Dave Grohl, is meant to "remind us that music is life". The name and release date of the album has significance; as already noted, Saint Cecilia is the patron saint of music, and November 22 is her respective feast day.

  14. Nothing for me today except the Lent Madness headline banner and a message that says, No RSS Itemss Found. Able to vote through the web. For Cecelia of course.

  15. The email received today did not have a link and said, "No RSS feed." I went directly to the website and voted there. Does something need to be fixed?

  16. I'm not very excited about either choice but I voted for Cecelia because legend and myth can tell deep truth, and music can reach places words and deeds cannot.

  17. Ditto on the blank email this morning. Juliana for me. Working and being in the world while experiencing the central mysticism of her faith.
    Dear Cecelia who might be a figment of some romantic bard’s imagination, as an emblem of organized religion’s incredibly screwed up relationship to human sexuality? Nope. I loved singing in choir, but this mascot is not getting my vote.

  18. I had a hard time voting today. I am not a big fan of either of these ladies, so choosing between them was difficult. I finally chose Juliana, because for all my love of singing (both doing it and listening to it) in church, I am put of by Cecilia as an example of Christian "purity" for protecting her "virtue" from her husband, of all people! Belonging to a church where priests marry and have families, including gay priests, I find it hard to celebrate "virginity" as a step towards holiness. I have many nuns and Catholic priests and brothers as friends who have chosen to be celibate, but I refuse to see it as a requirement for contemplative living. I believe in the church incarnate. If God made it, it is good. God made us and our bodies and our method of reproducing. Sex is not evil, in and of itself. Someone has to misuse it before I see sin, in the sinner and not the act.

  19. An indicator of my Lent Madness devotion has to be my shock and horror to see "No RSS items found" when I hit my email link this morning. I don't even know what an RSS item is, but the Supreme Executive Committee has trained me well and on I went to http://www.lentmadness.org and voted for Juliana. Despite liking Simon and Garfunkel, don't think I could have voted for a Cecilia who had Paul Simon on his knees:)

      1. Thank you! I just might delight my IT gifted husband with an off-the-cuff comment
        about yesterday's Really Simple Syndication challenge:)

  20. Dear Lent Madness,

    The fifth grade of St. Robert has been enjoying participating in LentMadness, today we can't seem to find the vote button, but we vote for Cecillia. Thanks again for your hard work, we are learning about saints and having fun, at the same time.

  21. In honor of the glorious windows in the St. Cecilia chapel at Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison, Kansas, and my Daddy, it has to be Cecilia for me. The inconstancy of Simon and Garfunkel's Cecilia infuriated Daddy. In fun, we would play the song as loud as we could just to hear him yell at her. When cortical basal degeneration took his ability to speak and then, little-by-little, the rest of his mind, we would sing "Cecilia" to make him laugh as long as he could, and then smile, as long as he could, and then we hoped he could just hear and remember. Cecilia for Daddy forever.

    1. Yes! I love being at The Mount in Atchison!
      Cast a vote for Cecilia in honor of my grandmother, Cecile and my church organists—my mother and my husband

      1. The Mount always will be a special place, and dear connections to the Father Max Tracy era of Trinity Episcopal, Atchison.

  22. I have no choice but to vote for Cecilia! My grandmother's middle name was Cecilia, and my grandfather's birthday was November 22. Then there's the beautiful illustration of Cecilia (shining red gown, flowing and shining hair, playing the organ in a beautiful room) that led me to choose Cecilia as my confirmation name when I was a young Catholic girl. To cap things off, I am now a devoted choir member...music is an integral part of my devotions. (I agree with Richard the Chalice Bearer, though, on her decision not to consummate her marriage.)

  23. I voted for Juliana who "suffered tragic loss after loss" - deep and personal loss. There is so much of that in the world today, in the news daily, that her story just spoke to me. So in honor of all who suffer and persevere through it all, my vote goes to Juliana.