Europe 1300 - 1800
- David, the Virgin and Child with Saints and Donor
- Gossaert, Saint Luke Painting the Madonna
- Van Orley and de Pannemaker, The Last Supper
- Pieter Aertsen, Meat Stall
- Bruegel, the Dutch Proverbs
- Bruegel, Tower of Babel
- Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Hunters in the Snow (Winter)
- Bruegel, Hunters in the Snow (Winter)
- Bruegel, Hunters in the Snow
- Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Peasant Wedding
- Reliquary bust of a companion of Saint Ursula
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. © Trustees of the British Museum. Created by British Museum.
Want to join the conversation?
- Where are the relics now?(11 votes)
- I believe the reliquary is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I do not know the fate of the original relic.(11 votes)
- What is the sphere of influence of St. Ursula? What is she the saint of?(4 votes)
- Like many popular saits she actually has many patronages including: Cologne, Delphi, England, archers, orphans, students, Binangonan, and Rizal. She even had an order founded around her in the 1535 that focused on the education of women and young girls.(7 votes)