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On the other hand Usuard, in his martyrology dating from about , mentions only "Martha and Saula with several others". But as early as the end of the ninth century or the beginning of the tenth, the phrase "the eleven thousand virgins " is admitted without dispute. How was this number reached? All sorts of explanations have been offered, some more ingenious than others. The chief and rather gratuitous suppositions have been various errors of reading or interpretation, e.

Sermon on the Birthday of the Eleven Thousand Holy Virgins | Monastic Matrix

It has been conjectured, and this is less arbitrary, that it is the combination of the eleven virgins mentioned in the ancient liturgical books with the figure of several thousand millia given by Wandalbert. However it may be, this number is henceforth accepted, as is also the British origin of the saints, while Ursula is substituted for Pinnosa and takes the foremost place among the virgins of Cologne.

The experiences of Ursula and her eleven thousand companions became the subject of a pious romance which acquired considerable celebrity. Besides the subsequent revisions of this story there are two ancient versions, both originating at Cologne. One of these Fuit tempore pervetusto dates from the second half of the ninth century , and was only rarely copied during the Middle Ages.

The other Regnante Domino , also compiled in the ninth century, had a wide circulation, but adds little of importance to the first.

The author of the latter, probably in order to win more credence for his account, claims to have received it from one who in turn heard it from the lips of St. Dunstan of Canterbury , but the serious anachronisms which he commits in saying this place it under suspicion. This legendary account is well known: Ursula, the daughter of a Christian king of Great Britain, was asked in marriage by the son of a great pagan king. Desiring to remain a virgin, she obtained a delay of three years. At her request she was given as companions ten young women of noble birth, and she and each of the ten were accompanied by a thousand virgins, and the whole company, embarking in eleven ships sailed for three years.

When the appointed time was come, and Ursula's betrothed was about to claim her, a gale of wind carried the eleven thousand virgins far from the shores of England, and they went first by water to Cologne and thence to Basle, then by land from Basle to Rome. They finally returned to Cologne, where they were slain by the Huns in hatred of the Faith. The literary origin of this romance is not easy to determine.

Apart from the inscription of Clematius, transcribed in the Passion "Fuit tempore" and paraphrased in the "Regnante Domino" Passion and the "Sermo in natali", the writers seem to have been aware of a Gallic legend of which a late version is found in Geoffrey of Monmouth : the usurper Maximus as Geoffrey calls the Emperor Maximian , having conquered British Armorica, sent there from Great Britain , colonists and 30, soldiers, and committed the government of Armorica to his former enemy, now his friend, the Breton prince, Conanus Meriadocus.

The latter decided to bring women from Great Britain to marry them to his subjects, to which end he appealed to Dionotus, King of Cornwall, who sent him his daughter Ursula, accompanied by 11, noble virgins and 60, other young women. As the fleet which carried them sailed towards Armorica, a violent storm destroyed some of the ships and drove the rest of them to barbarian islands in Germany, where the virgins were slain by the Huns and the Picts.

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The improbabilities, inconsistencies, and anachronisms of Geoffrey's account are obvious, and have often been dealt with in detail: moreover the story of Ursula and her companions is clothed with a less ideal character than in the Passions of Cologne. However, this account has been regarded by several writers since Baronius as containing a summary of the true history of the holy martyrs. Like the Passions of Cologne, it has been subjected to the anti-scientific method, which consists in setting aside as false the improbabilities, impossibilities, and manifest fables, and regarding the rest as authentic history.

As a consequence two essential traits remain: the English origin of the saints and their massacre by the Huns; and then, according as adherence is given to the "Sermo in natali", Geoffrey of Monmouth, or the Passion "Regnante Domino", the martyrdom of St. Ursula is placed in the third, fourth, or fifth century.

In order to account for all the details, two massacres of virgins at Cologne have been accepted, one in the third century, the other in the fifth. The different solutions with their variations suggested by scholars, sometimes with levity, sometimes with considerable learning, all share the important defect of being based on relatively late documents, unauthoritative and disfigured by manifest fables.

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No conclusion can be drawn from these texts. Nevertheless, the fables they contain are insignificant in comparison with those which were invented and propagated later. As they are now unhesitatingly rejected by everyone, it suffices to treat them briefly. In the twelfth century there were discovered in the Ager Ursulanus at Cologne, some distance from the Church of St. Ursula, skeletons not only of women, but of little children, and even of men, and with them inscriptions which it is impossible not to recognize as gross forgeries.

All this gave rise to a number of fantastic legends, which are contained in the accounts of the vision of St. Elizabeth of Schonau, and of a religious who has been regarded as identical with Blessed Hermann Joseph of Steinfeld. Melissa Black.

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To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

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