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Arvo Pärt received a commission to compose this work from the Agenzia Romana per la preparazione del Giubileo, that was, the body responsible for the organisation of the "Holy Year 2000" in Rome. Pärt was asked to write a work to be performed by the Chorus and Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.
Pärt was inspired by the story of the martyrdom of Saint Cecilia and he embarked on a search for a suitable text in 1999. He eventually found one in Latin at the seminary in the Austrian city of Graz: it is the Breviarium Romanum (S. Ceciliae Virg. et Mart., Lectio iii for 22 November) which contains a concise description of the saint's life. An old translation of the text into Italian has been located in the library of the Monastero di Bose in Northern Italy.
The world premiere of Cecilia, vergina romana took place in Rome on 19 November, that is, three days before the Saint Cecilia feast on 22nd (repeat performances on 20 and 21 November).
Arvo Pärt has dedicated the work to the conductor, Myung-Whun Chung as well as the Chorus and Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.