Saint Cecilia was born in Rome during the III century to wealthy and illustrious parents, who were idolators. Hearing the Gospel preached, she came to believe in Christ, and vowed to preserve her virginity. Against her will, however, they betrothed her to a noble pagan named Valerian, and forced her to wear fine clothes and jewelry at all times. Beneath these rich garments, she wore a rough hair shirt.
Filled with love for her Bridegroom Christ, she entreated Him to prevent the wedding. When the day of the marriage arrived, Saint Cecilia wept bitterly and prayed that the Lord would send an Angel to guard her chastity. That night, as they were led to the bridal chamber, she told her husband that an invisible Angel had been sent to defend her virginity. "If you touch me," she said, "he will slay you at once."
Valerian asked to see this Angel, but she told him, "you cannot see the Angel because you do not know the true God. You will not be able to see the Angel until you are cleansed of the impurity of unbelief."
“How may I be cleansed?” he asked.
She said that if he asked Bishop Urban to baptize him, he would be able to see the Angel. The Saint persuaded her husband to see Bishop Urban, who was hiding from the persecution in a cave along the Appian Way. The wise bishop's instructions filled Valerian's soul with joy, and after his Baptism Bishop Urban sent him home.
He found Cecilia praying, and saw an Angel of indescribable beauty standing beside her, holding two crowns of red roses and white lilies. Placing the wreaths on their heads he said, "Guard these wreaths by keeping your hearts pure and your bodies undefiled. I have brought them from Paradise, and no one can see them unless they, like you, are lovers of chastity. God sent me to you, Valerian, because you have agreed to preserve your purity. He wants you to have what you desire."
Valerian said, "No one is dearer to me than my brother Tiburtius. I ask the Lord to deliver him from the worship of idols, and convert him, as he converted me."
The Angel said that this request was pleasing to God, and would be granted. He also revealed that Valerian and Tiburtius would suffer martyrdom together. Soon after this, Tiburtius came to visit his brother. When he entered the house, he noticed the fragrance of roses and lilies. Valerian told him that he was able to smell the flowers because he had prayed that Tiburtius would come to love God and become worthy of an unfading crown.
"Am I dreaming," Tiburtius exclaimed, "or are you really telling me this?"
Valerian answered, "Until now, we have been living as if in a dream, worshiping false 'gods' and unclean demons. Now we walk in God's truth and grace."
After receiving instruction, Tiburtius was baptized by Bishop Urban. Then the brothers distributed part of their inheritance to the poor, took care of the sick, and buried the Christians who had been tortured to death by their persecutors.
This was reported to Almachius, the Eparch of the city, who ordered that the brothers be arrested and brought to trial. He ordered the Saints to renounce Christ and offer sacrifice to the pagan "gods," but the brothers refused. Then they scourged the brothers without mercy. Saint Valerian urged the Christians not to fear torments, but to stand firm for Christ.
In order to prevent the brothers from influencing the people, Almachius ordered that the martyrs be taken outside the city and executed there. The soldiers accompanying the martyrs to execution were commanded by Maximus. He was amazed at the courage of the Saints, and asked them why they did not fear death. The holy brothers said that they were exchanging this temporal life for everlasting life. Maximus wanted to learn Christian teaching in detail. He took Saints Valerian and Tiburtius to his own house and conversed with them all night. When she heard of this, Saint Cecilia went with a priest to Maximus. Then he and his entire family were baptized.
The next day, when the Martyrs Valerian and Tiburtius were beheaded, Saint Maximus confessed before everyone that he saw their holy souls being taken up to Heaven. Because of this, the holy Martyr Maximus was beaten to death.
The Eparch wanted to confiscate the property of those who had been executed, but when he was told that Saint Cecilia had already given her remaining wealth to the poor and had converted 400 men, he ordered her execution. For three days they tormented her in an overheated bath-house, with the heat and steam, but she was helped by the grace of God. Seeing that Saint Cecilia was still alive, they decided to behead her. The executioner struck her three times with a sword, but only wounded her. The holy Martyr lived three more days in full consciousness, encouraging those around her. Finally, she surrendered her soul to God, and her body was buried with reverence.
Saint Cecilia is regarded as the patron Saint of Church music. St. John Chrysostom extols the benefits of sacred music, and shows how strongly the fire of divine love is kindled in the soul by devout psalmody. (On Psalm 41).
The Holy Relics of Saints Valerian and Tiburtius are in the Roman Catholic Basilica of Saints Valerian and Cecilia in Rome.