St Ursula and her Eleven Thousand Virgins

The legend of St Ursula, the patron saint of young women and education, says that the Breton princess, who refused to marry the king of the Huns, was tortured and each of her following eleven thousand virgins killed.

Or were there eleven thousand of them? There are various arguments and theories as to the exact original number, but the most common one seems to be that the original text mentioned Ursula being accompanied by one friend, a virgin called Undecimile. This name being very rare, the translator would have interpreted and rendered the name as “Undecim Milia” in Latin, i.e. eleven thousand.

Martyrdom of St Ursula before the City of Cologne, c. 1411Photo: Martyrdom of St Ursula before the City of Cologne, c. 1411. commons.wikimedia.org

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