Allusive Religion

Beginning in the thirteenth-century, artists in Cologne created reliquary busts to contain the physical remains of Saint Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins. These reliquaries are visually unique because they are strikingly life-like and coney obvious feminine qualities. It is odd that the reliquaries’ approachable femininity is celebrated because women were often damned as the instigators of the original sin. With this central Christian idea in mind, it is therefore all the more surprising that Christians venerated Saint Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins, a group of female martyrs, whose reliquaries and legend have highly gendered characteristics. In my presentation, I explicated the significance of these reliquaries through examining the symbolism of the Passion of Saint Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins, the formation of the cult of their relics, and the meaning of these reliquary busts in late medieval society.


Elizabeth Hirsch

Eliza Garrison
Sponsor and Assistant Professor of History of Art & Architecture

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