The first church on this site was founded probably in the 3rd century, by Pope Urban I; it was devoted to the Roman martyr Cecilia, martyred it is said under Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander, by the late fifth century, for in the synod of 499 of Pope Symmachus, the church is indicated with the Titulus Ceciliae. Tradition holds that the church was built over the house of the saint. The baptistery associated with this church, together with the remains of a Roman house of the early Empire, was found during some excavations under the Chapel of the Relics. On 22 November 545, Pope Vigilius was celebrating the saint in the church, when the emissary of Empress Theodora, Antemi Scribone, captured him.
Art and architecture
The church has a façade built in 1725 by Ferdinando Fuga, which incloses a courtyard decorated with ancient mosaics, columns and a cantharus (water vessel). Its decoration includes the coat of arms and the dedication to the titular cardinal who paid for the facade, Francesco Cardinal Acquaviva d'Aragona.
Among the artifacts remaining from the 13th century edifice are a mural painting depicting the Final judgment (1289-93) by Pietro Cavallini in the choir of the monks, and the ciborium (1293) in the presbitery by Arnolfo di Cambio. The Gothic ciborium is surrounded by four marble columns white and black, decorated with statuettes of angels, saints, prophets, and evangelists. The apse has remains of 9th century mosaics depicting the Redeemer with Saints Paul, Cecilia, Paschal I, Peter, Valerian, and Agatha.
The ceiling of Cappella dei Ponziani was decorated God the Father with evangelists (1470) by Antonio del Massaro (Antonio da Viterbo or il Pastura). The Cappella delle Reliquie was frescoed and provided with an altarpiece by Luigi Vanvitelli. The nave is frescoed with the Apotheosis of Santa Cecilia (1727) by Sebastiano Conca. The church contains two altarpieces by Guido Reni: Saints Valerian and Cecilia and a Decapitation of Saint Cecilia (1603).
Among the most remarkable works is the graphic altar sculpture of St. Cecilia (1600) by the late-Renaissance sculptor Stefano Maderno. This sculpture reportedly is modelled on the saint's body as seen in 1595, when her tomb was opened. The statue subtly depicts the saint's decapitation. In addition, it also it is meant to underscore the supposed incorruptibility of her cadaver (an attribute of some saints), which miraculously still had congealed blood after centuries. This statue could be conceived as proto-Baroque, since it depicts no idealized moment or person, but a theatric scene, a naturalistic representation of a dead or dying saint. It is striking, because it precedes by decades the similar high-Baroque sculptures of Gian Lorenzo Bernini (for example, his Beata Ludovica Albertoni) and Melchiorre Caffà (Santa Rosa de Lima).
The crypt is also noteworthy, decorated with cosmatesque style, keeping the relics of St. Cecilia and St. Valerian
- Chris Nyborg, "Santa Cecilia in Trastevere".
- (Italian) Armellini, Mariano, "S. Cecilia in Trastevere", Le chiese di Roma dal secolo IV al XIX, Tipografia Vaticana, 1891. Through Bill Thayer's site, Lacus Curtius.