Piazza di Santa Cecilia, Trastevere . Bus to Viale Trastevere. Cavallini frescoes donation expected.
This pretty church stands on the site of a fifth-century building which was founded over a Roman house, the bath and store rooms of which can still be visited.
According to legend, it was the home of Valerio, a Roman patrician who was so impressed (if not frustrated) by his Christian wife Cecilia’s maintaining her vow of chastity that he also converted.
Valerio was martyred for his pains, and Cecilia was arrested while attempting to bury his body.
Her martyrdom was something of a botched job – following a failed attempt to suffocate her in the hot steam baths of her house, her persecutors tried to behead her with three strokes of an axe (the maximum permitted).
She took several days to die, which, according to one legend, she spent singing.
In any event, she became the patron saint of music.
In 1599 her tomb was opened, revealing her still- undecayed body.
It rapidly disintegrated, but not before a sketch had been made, on which Stefano Maderna based the astonishingly delicate sculpture which lies below the high altar.
Before you leave, you have to see (they aren’t always open) the splendidly colorful thirteenth century frescoes by Cavallini, high up in the gallery, all that remains of a cycle which once covered the whole church.
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