The story goes that Santa Cecilia (the c‘s pronounced like “ch” in children) was a 2nd century young Roman Christian woman whose home first became a place of worship and then a church after her martyrdom. While the church is interesting in its own right, the altar merits particular attention.
Legend has it that the first attempt to execute her (by locking her in her own hot water bathhouse) did not work – divine intervention. The persecutors then decided to execute her by decapitation, but here too a miracle occurred and after the third strike the executioner refused to continue (and supposedly ran off and converted). Cecilia then died three days later from the wounds.
Fast forward about 1200 years to 1599 when a certain Cardinal Sfrondati decides to exhume her body. In the presence of many prelates and of the artist Maderno, the coffin is opened and Santa Cecilia is found in her immaculate white burial robe, body uncorrupted, neck wounds still fresh and blood just coagulated.
Maderno is commissioned to make a statue for her altar and decides to portray her just as he remembered. This statue, early baroque in its “show things as they are” tone, is quite touching precisely due to its unadorned, direct sadness. With just the wound on her neck and the position of her hands and fingers, Maderno makes you feel intense grief for this young woman from almost 2000 years ago… marble work at its absolute best.