Perpetua vs. Cecilia

Happy Monday! We hope you're ready for another full week of rough and tumble saintly action. We kick things off with Perpetua vs. Cecilia as we head into the early third century.

Last week concluded with Thomas of Villanova routing Aloysius Gonzaga 72% to 28%, in the most lopsided matchup to date. No word on how this will impact this year's NCAA basketball tournament.

And since it's Monday, stay tuned for today's episode of Monday Madness which will be released later today.


Perpetua, along with other Christian catechumens, was arrested in 203 CE in Thurburbo Minus, just west of Carthage (modern-day Tunisia). Prior to the arrest, not much about Perpetua is known. Once she was arrested, however, she kept a journal of her experience in prison and during the trials that ultimately culminated in her martyrdom. Portions of her journal survive to this day in the text of The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas. Those journal entries may be the earliest extant Christian writings authored by a woman.

The journal narrates how Perpetua, a young 22-year-old mother of a nursing infant, repeatedly resisted pressure from her family to recant her faith. In the interactions, we see her father’s deep love and anguish for his daughter and her steadfast commitment to the Christian faith. Their tense exchanges are a sort of practice for her before she faces the regional governor. In each interchange, she states succinctly and clearly, “I am a Christian.” When she repeats the same before the Roman Emperor’s regent in court, she is condemned to death by wild beasts in the arena.

There is a certain humanity to her journals. In one entry, she narrates how her son was taken from her and given to her family. She expresses relief that her son did not go through the normal challenges of being weaned and is grateful that she herself did not experience pain in the process. It is noteworthy that her child is given to her family rather than to the father of the child and his family. One wonders if he was the one who turned her and her friends over to the authorities.

Throughout the journals, Perpetua also narrates visions and dreams she experienced while in prison. The visions give Perpetua agency and courage to stand fast in her faith. She embraced her fate and during games commemorating the fourteenth birthday of Geta, the younger son of the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus, she and the other catechumens were sent to the arena. In the arena, a wild heifer was set upon her and Felicitas (somehow under the logic that a female animal should be used to kill women). They survive the assault, with Perpetua in an ecstatic state, only to be killed by the sword in an anticlimactic execution.

Collect for Perpetua

O God, the King of Saints, who strengthened your servants Perpetua, Felicity, and their companions to make a good confession and to encourage one another in the time of trial: Grant that we who cherish their blessed memory may share their pure and steadfast faith and win with them the palm of victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

David Creech


Cecilia has both inspired—and broken—the hearts of musicians, from George Frideric Handel to Paul Simon.

The patron saint of musicians was born into a noble family sometime around 200 CE in Rome. She grew up in the Christian faith and vowed as a young girl that she would remain a virgin. Still, when her parents arranged her marriage to a man named Valerian, she didn’t run away. Instead, Cecilia sang. The Golden Legend—a collection of stories of the saints read widely in late medieval Europe that paved the way for Lent Madness—recounts that when Cecilia 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.”

When her new husband approached her to consummate their marriage, she told him that an angel watched over her, and if he were to touch her, the angel would slay him. Unconvinced, Valerian told her to prove it. So, she told him to go to a place outside the city, where he would find Pope Urban among the poor, and ask the pope to baptize him. Only then would he see the angel. Valerian found the pope just as Cecilia described, was baptized, and returned home to find his wife indeed speaking with an angel, according to The Golden Legend. The angel crowned them both with roses and lilies and told them to keep their crowns and chastity.

The couple later converted Valerian’s brother, Tyburtius, to Christianity. The brothers became known for burying the remains of Christian martyrs and giving all they owned to people in need before they were martyred themselves. After burying her husband and brother, Cecilia was called before the Roman prefect Almachius. After sassing Almachius and refusing to offer a sacrifice to the Roman god Jupiter, she was sentenced to death. Her executioner struck her neck three times with a sword, but her head remained attached and Cecilia alive. For three days, she continued to preach and convert many people before she died.

Cecilia has been revered for centuries in poetry, art, music, and a number of Christian traditions, and her feast day on November 22 is celebrated with concerts and music festivals around the world.

Collect for Cecilia

Almighty and everlasting God, who chooses those whom the world deems powerless to put the powerful to shame: Grant us so to cherish the memory of your youthful martyr Cecilia, that we might share her pure and steadfast faith in you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Emily McFarlan Miller


Perpetua: onbekende Venetiaanse kunstenaar, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Cecilia: Francesco Botticini, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


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143 comments on “Perpetua vs. Cecilia”

  1. St. Cecilia, that musical beauty,
    Buried Christian remains on the Q.T.
    When the prefect demurred,
    She (by threats undeterred)
    Gave her life in pursuit of her duty.

  2. Our choir sings, "St. Cecelia, Pray for us" after practice and before church. Gotta go with Cecelia!

    1. I have to hit/tap/push the vote button several times before it goes. Be patient. Maybe St Jude could help. Give him as ask.

  3. Watching all the moms in the news, fleeing with their children, I had to go with a young mom. I sure am not doing will with thinking the same as a majority! Only 1 pick of 9 so far have I been with the saint that moved ahead. On with the madness 🙂

    1. I feel yah, I seem to vote outside the mainstream, too. Went today for Perpetua.

    1. Keep trying - I have to tap/push/hit the vote tab several times before it takes my vote. Ask St Jude to give you a hand.

  4. By the 5th century, Cecilia's church in Rome was already old. The gens Caecilia owned property in the area, and the church's name probably honored its founder or benefactor, a woman named Caecilia (as all daughters of the gens would be named). In 499, Cecilia was reimagined as an early martyr, and the church was renamed “titulus sanctae Caeciliae.”
    So the church founded by the Lady Caecilia became the church named for the martyr Cecilia. Over the next century, the same fate befell a number of other titular churches, many but not all named for women. Thus were the ranks of the virgin martyrs enlarged, and the record of the female leaders and benefactors of Rome’s early churches erased.

    1. Let me add,
      Cecilia’s legend, which dates only to the 5th century, may be historically worthless, but (to borrow a line from Edward Gibbon) some indulgence must be granted to a fable which has inspired the chisel of Maderno, the brushes of Raphael and Botticini, the pens of Chaucer and Dryden, and the melodies of Purcell, Handel, Benjamin Britten, and Paul Simon.

  5. Two good saints, but I chose Perpetua in honor of the mothers and children who are suffering in Ukraine today. Thank you for not styling Perpetua "Not a Virgin" the way the missals of my childhood did. Motherhood is not a defect.

  6. My streak continues! I have voted for the 'losing' saint every day so far!

  7. Easy one today, St Cecilia adorns our Altar window in stained glass accredited to Tiffany.

  8. This was a difficult choice!!But the deciding factor for me is that I am a member of the St. Cecilia Choir at my churc.

  9. I was prepared to vote for the patron saint of music, but the grounded, well documented story of Perpetua and Felicitas moved me more than the fanciful story of Cecilia.

  10. My children are taught by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, so today was an easy one.

  11. My granddaughter's middle name is Cecilia. Music is a blessing, especially in troubled times. I voted for Cecilia.

  12. Although I love music, and have also visited the catacombs in Rome where St. Cecilia is supposedly buried—I find the insistence on female virginity ridiculous and hypocritical and beside the point when considering saintliness.

    I was a mother who nursed her child and in honor of Perpetua and other mothers persecuted by worldly powers I voted for Perpetua.

    1. I agree, Anne. The whole virgin martyr thing stems from the mistranslation of the word for "woman of marriageable age" used to describe Mary, the mother of Jesus.

    2. I also usually get tired of the virgin martyr stories, but today I find myself rather amused thinking of a clever young woman, with God's help, convincing her husband to go along with her chastity. She didn't want to have sex with him, so they didn't; instead they teamed up to do good works. That's a nice thought.

  13. Since Lent is a time for self-examination and confession, I will confess that neither of these faithful women really caught my heart today. Cecilia won the toss, as my younger son is a musician.

  14. I vacillated between the two a bit. Music is a passion for me, and what connects me most firmly to God. I did wonder if God already was demanding chastity even from his married people, at that early time in the years of our Lord. I ultimately went with Perpetua who gave up so much, her life and her child, while leaving a record of it to perpetually inspire us.

  15. Cecilia seems to magical for me to relate. As a twice widowed father, grandfather and great grand father,I cannot relate to chastity being a great virtue. Perpetua although with some magical incidents seems more human and demonstrated a gracious faith to which I can relate.

  16. Cecelia, the saint I chose when I was confirmed, and whose love of music has guided me throughout my life is my choice today.

  17. A little Paul Simon trivia. Though things did not go so well for him and an (avowedly made up) Cecilia, the saint herself appears in one of his loveliest solo compositions, "The Coast," which takes place at her "little harbor church." I enjoyed reading about both of these women, one a caring mother, the other refusing to be one; each exercising a kind of agency and self-definition that defied the limitations of her time.

  18. I thought I might want to vote for Cecilia, since I have sung in the church choir for many, many years, but reading about Perpetua and her writings caused me to vote for her. Someone who writes about what is going on in her life at such a long time ago and in such difficult times for Christians, won me over.

  19. Though as a singer, I usually would have chosen St. Cecelia, I also had to go with the young mother due to current events. Watching so many mothers flee with babes in arms is horrific and I pray that St. Perpetua watches over them all.

  20. Being an Oregonian, I just had to vote for Perpetual.
    Cape Perpetua is several hours south of us

    1. And there's Cannon Beach, where Aloysius can spend a restful spring break, once he's done setting off all his canons.

    2. Thank you my fellow Oregonian of reminding me of that beautiful spot on the Oregon Coast. And of course I voted for Perpetua.

  21. Not commenting on the Saints today. Whether I am commenting on this so-called new and improved website. This is a perfect example of fixing what ain’t broke. This new website is not as user-friendly as the old one. Plus the voting is very awkward. I have no idea why they decided that this new look would be better for the Lent madness site.
    Just saying

    1. And that banner is still randomly lowering itself down and covering up the top of whatever I'm trying to read on screen! (The banner thing was supposed to have been fixed already.)

      The only thing I like of this design is the little hearts we can click on to "like" someone's comment. That's it.

      1. The banner appears when I scroll up to see previously read comments. Then sometimes it goes away when I scroll down to continue reading.

        To vote, you have to first make your selection, then tap the VOTe box.

  22. I had to go with the journalist. In honour of Brent Renaud and all others who faithfully and honestly record human experience, I cast my vote for Perpetua. And surely there is a special curse for people and systems who bomb maternity hospitals and fete 14-year-old sons with bar massacres instead of bar mitzvahs. Despite the mythical encrustations, these stories reveal clearly how human nature and human cruelty never change. Lord, come quickly.

  23. In junior high and high school, I belonged to a musicians group named for St. Cecelia. Of course she gets my vote.