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St. Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins of Cologne

Relics, Reliquaries and the Visual Culture of Group Sanctity in Late Medieval Europe

Scott B. Montgomery

The cult of St. Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgin Martyrs of Cologne was the most widespread relic cult in medieval Europe. The sheer abundance of relics of the Eleven Thousand Virgins, which allowed for the display of immense collections, shaped the notion of corporate cohesion that characterized the cult. Though the primacy of St. Ursula as the leader of this holy band was established by the tenth century, she was conceived as the head of a corporate body. Innumerable inventories and liturgical texts attest to the fact that this cult was commemorated and referenced as a collective mass – Undecim millium virginum. This group identity informed, and was formulated by, the presentation of their relics, as well as much of the imagery associated with this cult. This book explores the visual, textual, performative, and perceptual aspects of this phenomenon, with particular emphasis on painting and sculpture in late medieval Cologne. Examining the ways in which both texts and images worked as vestments, garbing the true core of relics which formed the body of the cult, the book examines the cult from the core outward, seeking to understand hagiographic texts and images in terms of their role in articulating relic cults.


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image: Clarenaltar. Circa 1347. Second open position (fully open). Detail with reliquary busts. Cologne, Cathedral. Photo: Dombau, Köln. Cover design: Kara Trapani, Peter Lang Ltd © Peter Lang AG, International Academic Publishers, Bern 2010 Hochfeldstrasse 32, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland,, All rights reserved. All parts of this publication are protected by copyright. Any utilisation outside the strict limits of the copyright law, without the permission of the publisher, is forbidden and liable to prosecution. This applies in particular to reproductions, translations, microfilming, and storage and processing in electronic retrieval systems. Printed in Germany Bibliographic information published by Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek. Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data is available on the Internet at A catalogue record for this book is available from The British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data: Montgomery, Scott B. (Scott Bradford) St. Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins of Cologne : relics, reliquaries and the visual culture of group sanctity in late medieval Europe / Scott B. Montgomery. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references. ISBN 978-3-03911-852-6 (alk. paper) 1. Ursula, Saint--Art. 2. Ursula, Saint--Cult--Europe. 3. Ursula, Saint--Relics--Europe. 4. Eleven Thousand Virgins (Legendary saints) in art. 5. Eleven Thousand Virgins (Legendary saints) 6. Christian women saints--Cult--Europe. 7. Christian art and symbolism--Europe--Medieval, 500-1500. 8. Reliquaries, Gothic. 9. Relics--Europe. I. Title. II. Title: Saint Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins of Cologne. N8080.U77M66 2009 704.9’4863--dc22 2009048338 isbn 978-3-03911-852-6 (print) isbn 978-3-0353-0087-1 (eBook)

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