Ursula of Cologne

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St. Ursula as a protective mantle figure (1465)

The holy Ursula from Cologne said to have lived in the 4th century AD. However, since her life is not attested in contemporary sources, but only in legends that emerged much later, she is now generally regarded as a pure legend figure without historical existence.


Martyrdom of St. Ursula and her companions (16th century)

According to medieval legends, Ursula came from Brittany and lived in the 4th century († allegedly 383). According to the Legenda aurea , the Breton king's daughter Ursula Aetherius , the son of the pagan king of England , is to marry. She agrees, but sets three conditions which the bridegroom also fulfills: Prince Aetherius should be baptized within a period of three years; a group of ten companions and a further 11,000 virgins is to be assembled and a joint pilgrimage to Rome is undertaken.

The pilgrimage leads by ship to Basel and from there by land to Rome. There, the pilgrimage society is joined by the (historically unproven) Pope Cyriacus and (in some versions of the legend) some bishops and cardinals . Martyrdom is proclaimed to Ursula in a dream . In Cologne all pilgrims are killed by the Huns who are besieging the city. However, the Prince of the Huns falls in love with Ursula and offers to spare her and marry her. When she refuses, he kills her with an arrow shot . Ursula's companions include St. Cordula , who initially hides during the attack by the Huns, but then also faces martyrdom, as do Aukta and Odilia of Cologne .


Church of St. Ursula in Cologne (2005)

The legend has been preserved in many versions, which were further adorned from the 9th to the 13th century. The first evidence is an inscription from the 5th century, which is kept in the Church of St. Ursula in Cologne . The authenticity of this inscription, in which neither the name of Ursula nor the number of virgins is mentioned, is not certain. The name of the king's daughter Ursula is first mentioned in the Passio Ursulae around 970 , allegedly based on information from Archbishop Dunstan of Canterbury . An older source names a British princess Winnosa or Pinnosa as the leader of the troop. She was later degraded to the daughter of a duke while her body was transferred to Essen . The Ursula legend also plays an important role in Gottfried Hagen's rhyming chronicle of the city of Cologne .

The number 11,000 may be due to a read error. The early sources occasionally mention only eleven virgins. It was therefore assumed that the indication “XI.MV” was incorrectly read as “11 milia virgines” instead of “11 martyres virgines”. However, Wandalbert von Prüm reports as early as 848 on thousands (millia) of saints killed.

In 1121 planned reliquary excavations were carried out around the church by Bishop Norbert von Xanten for the first time . The resting places of the companions of St. Virgos revealed. Numerous graves were uncovered and bones were raised as relics. Numerous reports of visions and translations of the bones of the saints legitimize the relics.

Another excavation was carried out between 1155 and 1164 by the Deutz Benedictines on behalf of Archbishop Arnold II . In addition to women's bones, men's and children's bones were also found.

A list drawn up by the custodian of the Deutz Benedictine monastery , Theoderich von Deutz, lists the martyrs, separated by sex, in whose graves the tituli (epitaphs) and their names were supposedly found. Today, most of the tituli can be proven to be forgeries, the names and places of which come from the second Passio Ursulae . But real tituli also appeared, including a late Merovingian, which indicates the tomb of Etherius.

In order to legitimize Etherius belonging to the virgins and to have the falsified tituli authenticated, the Deutz Benedictines contacted the Benedictine monastery Schönau in order to present the tituli of the Benedictine Elisabeth von Schönau (1129–1164). Elisabeth was known for her visions and revelations, which came to her in fits and starts through conversations with the Virgin Mary, an angel and saint. Elisabeth skilfully smoothed out and explained contradictions and breaks that the new relics had to raise. For example, a Pope Cyriacus appears in the lists of the Deutz Benedictines, but he is not listed in any papal list . Elizabeth explains this fact by saying that his name has been deleted from all papal lists because he had given up his high position to go with those who appeared to the papal advisors to be just a group of confused women. In addition, the same Pope only suffered martyrdom three days after all the others, so that he could still make numerous tituli for the martyrs. The legend was extended to the effect that Ursula's fiancé, Aetherius, traveled to meet her with his entourage (therefore now men and children) and suffered martyrdom with her before Cologne. The reliquary of Aetherius still stands next to that of Ursula in the choir of the Church of St. Ursula.

The legend of the holy virgins and the spread of their relics took place across Europe as early as the 12th century. However, since a large number of bones have now been found that have been attested to by legend and by Elisabeth von Schönau as a martyr, the grave field around the collegiate church became one of the richest relic sites north of the Alps.


Religious orders

Patronage and Heraldry

British Virgin Islands Coat of Arms

There are numerous Ursula churches and St. Ursula schools .

Remembrance day

On October 21, Ursula is honored with an unavailable day of remembrance in the regional calendar for the German-speaking area , but celebrations in Cologne. From the general Roman calendar , the feast of St. Ursula deleted in 1970.

There are numerous peasant rules for their memorial day .

  • The herb has to come in to Ursula, otherwise it will be outside for a long time.
  • Ursula laughs with sunshine, there will be little snow before Christmas.
  • The herb has to come in on Ursula, otherwise Simon and Judas (October 28th) will snow on it.


Hans Memling: Ursula Shrine (before 1489; Memling Museum, Bruges )
Vittore Carpaccio : The Dream of St. Ursula (around 1495; Gallerie dell'Accademia , Venice). On the right in the picture the angel who announces her martyrdom.

Ursula's iconographic attributes are the arrow and the ship . There can be lights (candles or lamps) for the companions. Medieval depictions show Ursula as a protective cloak figure , who houses the virgins under her cloak.

The Vita of St. Ursula was trained in the fine arts a . a. shown:

Often important stations in the life of St. Ursula are represented as a cycle.

Adaptations of the Ursula legend in poetry, music and sculpture

In the folk song collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn compiled by Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano , the last stanza of the Bavarian folk song Heaven hangs full of violins (We enjoy heavenly joys ...) takes up the Ursula legend:

There is no music on earth,
Which ours can be compared
Eleven thousand virgins
Dare to dance
Saint Ursula himself laughs at this ...

Gustav Mahler set this song to music in the final movement of his 4th symphony .

For the Hessentag 2011 “Ursula - Das Hessentagsmusical” was written and staged. Professional artists such as Fabian Vogt or Daniel Baginski as well as numerous volunteers contributed to it.

Peter Gerloff wrote and composed the three-verse hymn Ursula about St. Ursula and her companions.

The Ursula material in the novels Ursula's Maiden Army by Philip Griffin (2004; German: Das Heer der Jungfrauen , 2005) and Burning Souls - Novel about St. Ursula by Günter Krieger (2005) have been processed fiction . The urban fantasy novel Miriamslied by Stefan Blankertz (2011) also makes use of elements from the Ursula legend.

In his book Eleven Thousand Virgins , published in 2012 , Ralf König made Ursula a comic figure.

As part of the redesign of the sculpture program for the Cologne town hall tower in the 1980s, Ursula was honored with a figure by Rainer Walk on the fourth floor on the north side of the tower.


  • Oskar Schade: The legend of St. Ursula and the eleven thousand virgins: A contribution to legend research . 3. Edition. Rümpler, Hannover 1854 ( digitized version ).
  • Johann Hubert Kessel: St. Ursula and Her Society , 1863.
  • J. Klinkenberg, 'Studies on the history of the Kölner Märterinnen', in: Yearbooks of the Verein von Altertumsfreunden im Rheinlande 88, 1889, pp. 79–95, 89, 1890, pp. 105–134, 93, 1892, 130–179.
  • Wilhelm Levison: The becoming of the Ursula legend, In: Bonner Jahrbücher 132, 1928, pp. 1–164.
  • W. Schmitz: On the origin of the Ursula legend: The inscription of Clematius. In: Wolfgang Rosen, Lars Wirtler (ed.): Sources for the history of the city of Cologne, Volume 1: Antiquity and the Middle Ages from the beginning to 1396/97. Cologne 1999, pp. 53-58.
  • G. Wegener: History of the St. Ursula monastery in Cologne. Cologne 1971.

Web links

Commons : St. Ursula  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Levison: Becoming the Ursula Legend .
  2. Guido Wagner: From the bones to the martyrdom of the 11,000 virgins. Roots and development of the Ursula legend and its significance for Cologne as the »Sacrarium Agrippinae« . In: History in Cologne . tape 48 , no. 1 , 1 January 2001 ISSN  2198-0667 , doi : 10.7788 / gik.2001.48.1.11 ( degruyter.com [accessed on June 14, 2019]).
  3. ^ S. Ristow: Early Christianity in the Rhineland. The evidence of the archaeological and historical sources on the Rhine, Meuse and Moselle. Münster 2007, p. 111-116 .
  4. A. Sparber: From the history of the Völser parish in the Eisack valley. Bozen 1930, p. 18, mentions in note 61 the Völs church calendar from 1518, which is preserved in the Brixen Consistorial Archives, Lade 5.
  5. Quoted from: Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Old German songs collected by L. Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano. Winkler Verlag, Munich 1980, ISBN 3-538-06560-8 , p. 208.
  6. Website for "Ursula - Das Hessentagsmusical"
  7. Singing Faith
  8. stadt-koeln.de: Sculptures on the fourth floor , accessed on January 15, 2015.