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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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Fig. 1: Clematius Inscription. Early fifth century. South wall of choir, Church of the Eleven Thousand Virgins, Cologne. Fig. 2 (left): Church of the Eleven Thousand Virgins, Cologne. Exterior from east, showing thirteenth-century choir. Fig. 3 (below): Church of the Eleven Thousand Virgins, Cologne. Interior of nave looking east toward the main altar. Fig. 4: Church of the Eleven Thousand Virgins, Cologne. Interior of choir showing relic niches. Fig. 5: Church of the Eleven Thousand Virgins, Cologne. Relic niches in choir. Fig. 6 (left): Janiform Reliquary Bust of the Holy Virgins. Circa 1500. Cologne work- shop. Polychromed and gilded wood. Church of St. Ursula, Cologne. Fig. 7 (below): Church of the Eleven Thousand Virgins, Cologne. Interior view of nave and aisle showing janiform reliquary busts in the gallery. Fig. 8 (above): Church of the Eleven Thousand Virgins, Cologne. Fourteenth- century altar with Ursula Schutzmantelheilige and companion saints. Fig. 9 (right): Church of the Eleven Thousand Virgins, Cologne. Detail of choir showing relic niches and late fifteenth century window with Ursula Schutzmantelheilige. Fig. 10: Reliquary Bust of a Holy Virgin. Circa 1340. Cologne. Wood. Fig. 11: Reliquary Bust of a Holy Virgin. Circa 1330–40. Cologne. Wood. Fig. 12: Reliquary Bust of a Holy Virgin. Circa 1330–40. Cologne. Wood. Fig. 13: Reliquary Bust of a Holy Virgin, Companion of St. Ursula. Late thirteenth century. Limoges. Copper, gilt. Fig. 14: Reliquary Bust of St. Ursula. Late fourteenth century. Siena. Wood, polychromed and gilded. Fig. 15: Reliquary Bust of a Holy Virgin....

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