St. Cecelia, by Sister Liz Pearson

St. Cecelia

She was dressed in a heavy linin shift overlaid with white lace, but underneath her skin was rendered raw by her holy dress of hair. When her new husband undressed her he peeled back layer upon layer until he exposed her scabs and shining patches of rubbed flesh speckled with drops of blood.

            “An angel loves me,” she said, and sent him into the centre of the city to be baptised by a hermit hidden in the crowd. When he returned the angel placed on his head a crown of lavender and rosemary. He asked her if they might save his brother, too, and she sent him as well into the city. When he returned there were flowers waiting for his crown.

            The brothers walked the labyrinth of alleyways while the sun was hidden, burying the martyrs. They collected the bodies, bathing and burying them in unmarked graves lined in thoughtful rows. Cecelia spent the time alone, surrounded by angels and expectation.

            On the day the brothers were arrested and killed, Cecelia waited in the doorway to be collected by the emperor’s men. The emperor threw slander and mockery at her, but she caught everything in a net woven by rhetoric. Eventually, the emperor grew bored and sentenced her to be boiled to death.

            She boiled until the fire sank into coals. The guards’ heads pounded with madness made by her joyful singing. They tried to cut off her head. After three chops they fled from the sound of her preaching and gurgling. For three days she spoke out to the city, while growing masses of followers collected the blood that flowed over the rim of her bath. When they finally buried her she was warm. When they peeked beneath the lid of her tomb years later she was as lovely as a rose. The devoted angel curled at her side.