Treasures of Heavensaints, relics and devotion
in medieval Europe

23 June – 9 October 2011

Members free 
Open late Fridays

Sponsored by John Studzinski

In association with
William and Judith Bollinger, Singapore
Betsy and Jack Ryan
Howard and Roberta Ahmanson
The Hintze Family
Charitable Foundation

Organised with
The Cleveland Museum of Art
The Walters Art Museum

Objects: St Ursula

Discover the story of the English princess Ursula who before her marriage went on pilgrimage
to venerate relics in the Holy Land.

The story of St Ursula

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This beautiful woman is most likely intended to represent one of the companions of St Ursula. According to legend St Ursula was an English princess who decided to go on a holy pilgrimage before her marriage. The legend also states that she took with her 11,000 virgin companions as company for the journey.

The troop of 11,000 virgins travelled to Cologne, Basle and Rome and made their way home back through Cologne. It was here that they met with a group of pagan Huns, whose leader wanted to marry Ursula. Ursula being already engaged and a virgin refused! This made the Huns so angry that they murdered all 11,000 of the girls by arrow fire.

11,000 virgins is certainly a large party – the legend of there being 11,000 virgins became fixed in the 10th century, but this was probably through a misunderstanding of a Latin numerical inscription which read 11 rather than 11,000! Once the legend took off it became incredibly popular and indeed provided much inspiration for medieval craftsmen to create objects such as this.

The ‘door’ in the centre of the head of this reliquary opens to reveal a cavity which once held a skull relic of this unknown female saint.