Recording of November 1997: 11,000 Virgins What About All These Virgins?

Sidebar: What About All These Virgins?

The legend of St. Ursula and the 11,000 virgins runs thus: A British princess was betrothed to a pagan king. Wishing to avoid marriage with an infidel, she delayed the wedding on the pretext of making a pilgrimage. She sailed off with a thousand local virgins; when word got out, 10,000 more joined up. They made it to Rome, but on their way home stopped off in Cologne, where they were promptly martyred by the Huns (in spiffy 15th-century armor, to judge from Hans Memling's painting).

The original versions of the story mention only 11 virgins max, but what are a few orders of magnitude among friends? The metaphorical quality of the story must have profoundly affected early Christians; the legend appears constantly in texts well before and after Hildegard. It was not until 1969 that the cult of St. Ursula was formally suppressed.—Les Berkley