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. I was unmoved by either today. But what tipped me over for Juliana was Cecilia’s praying to “not be befouled” by consummating her marriage. This kind of thinking has lead to Christianity’s unhealthy attitude toward sex. Enough, I say!

    1. It doesn't. Saintly 'Celia wouldn't lower herself so far as to go to bed with her husband, so she definitely wouldn't sully her purity for Paul Simon or Art Garfunkel!

  2. Tough choice, but it’s Cecilia for love of music — especially that written in her honor!

  3. Years ago I was in a choral group that performed Benjamin Britten's Hymn to St. Cecilia . . . a VERY difficult work!!!

  4. I was planning on voting for Cecilia, as who doesn't love music and poetry? But then I read about poor Juliana who had a more somber and troubled life and her devotion to trying to institute a feast day and I decided she needed my vote more than Cecilia did.

  5. Cecilia is celebrated enough by musicians. Juliana actually wrote music we can hear today. Vote for Juliana!

  6. As a huge fan of S&G since Hi School days (yes, I know long ago) how can I NOT vote for Cecilia!

    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.”

  7. Were it not for Juliana, there would be no City of Corpus Christi, Tx. In 1519, Spanish explorer Alonzo Alvarez de Peneda observed a bay on the west coast of what would be named the Gulf of Mexico. That day was the Feast of Corpus Christi, Juliana's tireless work. In keepin with Spanish tradition, Pineda named the bay Corpus Christi, from which the later city took its name. The city is the largest community in the U.S. whose name is entirely in Latin.
    Sancta Juliana, ora pro nobis!

  8. What greater blessing than music? I voted for Cecilia. Paul Simon should have no quibble after his huge success. Any “dry spell” was momentary

  9. It has been said that Roman Catholics focus on the Crucifixion and Atonement, and most Protestants focus more on the Resurrection and new life in the risen Christ. But we Episcopalians -- both catholic and Protestant -- Merry Christmas, we are Incarnational at heart! We are down to earth and sacramental, seeing and knowing and sharing Christ through earthen vessels of water, bread, wine, music, flying buttresses and flower gardens, pancakes and casseroles and sherry, hugs and kisses. Most of our clergy marry, and those of us with children all have stories about how our own PKs embarrassed us and made parishioners' children look like angels in comparison -- and at other times left us proud and amazed. We bless dogs, cats, and pet tarantulas, ships, crops, candles, palms, and ashes. And most of all, again and again and always, we taste and know Christ embodied and Real in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.

    Cecelia's actual, embodied particulars are lost to us in the whisper down the lane of 19+ centuries, but if she existed and indeed insisted on an unconsummated "marriage," how very un-incarnational! I voted for Juliana, who actually wrote beautiful music, and spoke truth to the Church hierarchy/patriarchy about her desire for a feast day celebrating Christ being truly real and known in the ordinary, daily stuff of bread and wine.

    Today it's celebrate vs celibate -- I think that should be no contest for our Incarnational Episcopal heats and minds. Why isn't it Juliana by a big earthy muddy landslide?

    1. Eloquent! I think I'll skip the celebrations of the tarantulas though, and on behalf of Bishop Holly and Haiti, I will refrain from rejoicing in earthquakes and mudslides. But YES to pancakes, flowers, and dancing.

  10. I voted for Juliana, but I really doubt Paul Simon had St. Cecelia in mind when he wrote the song, lol. Because of this verse:

    Making love in the afternoon
    With Cecelia in my bedroom
    I got up to wash my face
    When I came back to bed someone’s taken my place.

    Definitely sounds like a different Cecelia!

  11. Christ said to Juliana: "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.

    How could you not vote for the Saint that championed "the reality of Jesus Himself."

  12. As impressive as Juliana is, I voted again for Cecilia, and not just because of the Paul Simon song (though that gave me a good chuckle) but because I've been in a series of church choirs since I was about 8.

  13. A possible flip side interpretation of Cecelia: perhaps we could see her as a young girl exercising agency in rejecting the advances of the grown man who made a deal with her parents. My body, my choice. (I admit I could do without the "defouling" language.)
    that said, I voted for Juliana today.

    1. I was thinking the same thing. And when she made her prayer the guy she was being married off to wasn't a Christian. I can see myself praying basically the same (but, again, without some of the language particulars)... I mean, if she wasn't willing in the marriage then immediate consummation would basically be without her consent, so...

      And then I remembered that her influence converted him and I wondered why they never got together then except I realized that she was probably simply sticking to the vow she'd made much, much earlier even though circumstances had changed. And weren't the Rekabites commended for sticking to a commitment of their ancestor even in a changing world/circumstances (Jeremiah 35)?

  14. They are both two of the saints which I honor but Saint Juliana of Liege just seems a little more reachable, a little more understandable, a little more mortal, as distinct from being totally out of my reach, an ethereal, celestial being.

  15. I know there is a tendency not to vote for saints who are more "legendary" than real people, however, St. Cecilia has always been important to me as a church musician. I inherited a picture of St. Cecilia from my great-grandmother, who was also a church musician. As the patron saint of music, she encourages us to give our best to the Church. I'm very much is awe that Juliana of Liege managed to elevate a feast (ostensibly at the request of Jesus himself) for the whole church, but I have to vote for Cecilia because many of the moments in my life that have transported me to God's presence have been through music. The only Saint medal I have is one of Cecilia, reminding me to practice, practice, practice!!

  16. I voted for Juliana mostly on account of her underdog status but also because I'm fond of Belgium. Immediately after I voted I saw that this race is nearing a Thomist/Hieronymic tie. Exciting!

  17. Wow. As of 2:39 PM EST this match is VERY close! Based on reading other comments (mentioning Juliana as the underdog) I'm surprised.

    I didn't connect with either of these ladies in the first round and even today I was grasping for some way to connect with one or the other to help me vote. There are sorta two reasons I voted for Cecillia, one being that after reading the comments of many who disprove of her never consummating had me looking at her vow and commitment in a different light and seeing a vote as defending that aspect. 😉

    But, mainly, as the connected series of poems and songs and cantata were being described, primarily the "music bringing the universe into being" aspect, it made me wonder if that's what inspired Tolkien (Silmarillion), too, knowing he and Lewis were both influenced by various ancient stories and myths and saints and the like. On the other hand, without ever hearing of St. Cecilia (or her Day) or knowing of Tolkien's world backstory, I, too, used song for the creation story of the world for the book I've been trying to write for 20 years...

  18. I totally respect virginity as a choice, and appreciate that according to the story, Cecilia was being forced into marriage and therefore sexual experiences she didn’t want. But we can have no idea of what she really thought of sex even within marriage. If, as I’m interpreting from Emily McFarlan Miller’s excellent write-up, the language about her singing in her heart to God at her wedding and praying not to be “befouled,” that’s from hundreds of years after she lived. And no matter when it’s promoted, the attitude that sex is somehow inherently “foul” is deeply unhealthy and has caused endless misery.

    It’s great that Cecilia has inspired artworks through the ages, but even in the legend, her connection with music is extraordinarily tenuous. Juliana, on the other hand, actually wrote music, and even if all we have if the piece Amber Belldene shared, it’s exquisite. Juliana’s particular focus in her mysticism doesn’t strike any chords with me, but she fought long and hard for what she believed. She led a rich life of service outside her devotion to Corpus Christi. In this round, it’s Juliana for me.

  19. Toughest choice yet, for me. Music speaks to my soul like nothing else, and it seems both these women had a very special feeling for music, and talent for it. Thank you for the link to Julianna’s music for Corpus Christi, beautifully sung and in the style of Gregorian chant, I think. I do believe music could, if not heal, then make bearable, all manner of illness and pain, both bodily and spiritually and emotionally. Either woman that advances will be fine with me. I have always voted for Cecelia before.

  20. A question for Frs. Tim and Scott: Do you vote personally, or as Senior Executives are you precluded from voting?

    1. Good question! I never fill out a bracket (my predictions are always wrong). I occasionally cast a pity vote for the loser if someone is very far behind, but generally stay out of it and let the people decide.

  21. Today’s pairing summoned the words of W.H. Auden’s “Anthem for St. Cecilia’s Day,” which I sang with the Cecilia Society (now the Boston Cecilia) a good many years ago, as set by Benjamin Britten. There’s a great performance by a small group on YouTube. The refrain is:

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

    Now I can’t get it out of my head; but why would I want to?

  22. I voted for Cecilia. I am not a musician, but I appreciate music and the Handel and the Britton were lovely. Cecilia's parents arranged a marriage for her with a man who didn't share her faith. She chose not to consumate that marriage. Why should I condemn her for that? I love the Eucharist, but I don't believe in transubstantiation. It seems that Juliana's life's work was devoted to something I don't believe. I chose the musical muse.

    1. Actually the doctrine of transubstantiation wasn't formulated until 300 years after Juliana's time -- I just lookd it up -- so maybe she called it something like good old Anglican real presence.

  23. Being a musician, I thought I was going to vote for Cecilia, but when I reread about Juliana and added to that today's information, I was drawn to vote for her. She really was musical, and her devotion to the Sacrament is inspiring.