St. Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr
This saint, so often glorified in the fine arts and in poetry, is one of the most venerated martyrs of Christian antiquity. The oldest historical account of St. Cecilia is found in the "Martyrologium Hieronymlanum"; from this it is evident that her feast was celebrated in the Roman Church in the fourth century. The feast of the saint mentioned under November 22, on which day it is still celebrated, was kept in the church in the Trastevere quarter at Rome dedicated to her. Its origin, therefore, is to be traced most probably to this church.
The time when Cecilia suffered martyrdom is not known but is believed to have been between the end of the second century to the middle of the third.
The oldest representations of St. Cecilia show her in the attitude usual for martyrs in the Christian art of the earlier centuries, either with the crown of martyrdom in her hand (e.g. at S. Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, in a sixth-century mosaic) or in the attitude of prayer, as an Orans (e.g. the two sixth and seventh-century pictures in her crypt). In the apse of her church in Trastevere is still preserved the mosaic made under Pope Paschal, wherein she is represented in rich garments as patroness of the pope. Medieval pictures of the saint are very frequent; since the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries she is given the organ as an attribute, or is represented as playing on the organ, evidently to express what was often attributed to her in panegyrics and poems based on the Acts of the martyrdom of St. Cecilia, viz., that while the musicians played at her nuptials she sang in her heart to God only.
When the Academy of Music was founded at Rome (1584) she was made patroness of the institute, whereupon her veneration as patroness of church music in general became still more universal; today Cecilian societies (musical associations) exist everywhere. The organ is now her ordinary attribute; with it Cecilia was represented by Raphael in a famous picture preserved at Bologna. In another magnificent masterpiece, the marble statue beneath the high altar of the above-mentioned church of St. Cecilia at Rome, Carlo Maderna represented her lying prostrate, just as she had received the death-blow from the executioner's hand.
Foundation of the parish. As one journeys along Green Lane, Tuebrook, today and looks upon the dignified Romanesque church with its west doorway surmounted by a carved statue of St. Cecilia, one can’t help but admire the beauty of this House of God. It was on the 29th September 1905, that Archbishop Thomas Whiteside appointed Fr. John Casey to take charge of the newly created mission of St. Cecilia’s, Tuebrook. The new parish included within its boundaries not only Tuebrook but also the Clubmoor area and the site which the church of St. Matthew’s now stands. in that wide area were less than six hundred Catholics whose spiritual needs were attended to by the clergy of the neighbouring parishes of St. Oswald, St. Michael, St. Paul and All Saints. The enormous estates of Larkhill and Norris Green had not even been considered and, indeed, were not developed until after the First World War.
The chapel in the loft. With instructions from the Archbishop, Fr. Casey set about finding a suitable place for the new community to meet and celebrate the Eucharist. Through the kind cooperation of Mr Andrew Morris, a non-Catholic, a loft was rented at 1a, New Road and on the 23rd October, 1905, Mass was celebrated for the first time – the parish had been formed! Mr Morris always boasted that the parish was formed, just like the Christian Church had been formed, in an Upper Room!
The Temporary Church. It became obvious that only after a few months, the loft was unsuitable for the growing number of parishioners, which soon numbered one thousand. A temporary church was needed and the foundation stone for this was laid in August 1906, on a site at the corner of Bradden and Snaefell Avenues. Mr Matthew Honan was the architect and the church was solemnly blessed on the 3rd February, 1907. This was to be the home of the community for twenty-three years. The cost of building the church came to £1,500. The architect was killed during the First World War and in his will he donated funds which helped towards the building of St. Matthew’s. This remained only a temporary church until another site could be found and funds raised for a more suitable place.
The Permanent Church. On the 10th December 1928, Archbishop Richard Downey appointed Fr. Casey as the area Dean. On the 22nd September 1929, the Archbishop blessed the foundation stone of the new church and then returned on the 21st December 1930 for the official opening. The architect was Mr. E Bowes Norris who produced an adaptation of the Early Christian or Lombard Romanesque School. Externally, St. Cecilia’s is a noble building by any standards but it is the interior of the church that most comments are made. Within the church form and colour are blended, everything was designed to lead the eyes to the High Altar. Lying below the altar lies the traditional figure of St. Cecilia, an exact copy of Maderno’s masterpiece in Rome. The stark, white figure is thrown into relief by a background of black marble. The reredos is over twenty feet high and is flanked by two large columns of Sweedish green marble supporting a decorative cornice of rich, white marble. Centrally beneath the cornice, the traditional throne for the monstrance is arranged in a large niche surrounded by panels of Mexican onyx. The arch above the reredos contains a beautiful coloured depiction of the Crucifixion, itself the culminating point of the mosaic work of the sanctuary. Side chapels dedicated to the Sacred Heart and Our Lady complement the High Altar.
The Consecration. Sadly Fr. Casey had died before the church was consecrated. His successor, Fr. Richard Tobin, had also died. It was left to Fr. Bernard Catterall to see the church finally consecrated on the 6th October 1972 by Archbishop George Andrew Beck.
The Future. It is over one hundred years since the founding of St. Cecilia’s. We give thanks to God for all that has happened in this community. Through the blessings and work of many priests and people, the parish is strong, and because of that, we give thanks to God and look to the future with hope.
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