Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins

Date of news: 21 October 2016

Fol. 252r

This miniature shows Ursula of Cologne. Underneath her cloak, which is being held open by angels, Ursula protects the eleven thousand virgins that were placed under her care. Ursula was the daughter of the king of Britain and was proposed to by a heathen prince. She accepted the marriage proposal, provided that he converted to Christianity and allowed her to go on a pilgrimage to Rome. On her way back in het year 453, the boat that was carrying her and the virgins passed through Cologne. They were attacked and killed by the Huns, Ursula by a lethal arrow to the throat. Several virgins managed to escape, but the rest were buried in Cologne. The story is mostly fiction; even in medieval times there were many different versions of the tale. For one thing, the number eleven thousand is most likely a mistake; the abbreviation XI. M. V. which stand for undecim martyres virgines (eleven virginal martyrs) was probably misinterpreted as undecim milia virgines (eleven thousand virgins). The 'M' was mistaken for the Roman number 1000 in stead of the abbreviation for the word 'martyr' that it was supposed to be. Another possibility was that the name of one of the virgins, Undecimillia, was interpreted as a number. Her feast day is on 21 October.