The Legend of St. Ursula and the 11,000 virgins

Origins - Did it really happen, and were there really that many virgins? 

Well, probably not, but hunting for historical truth in the legend is actually the least interesting aspect of it. We don't enjoy Creation myths, or stories of Greek Gods, or King Arthur, or Robin Hood any the less because the incidents described never happened. 
     The most solid evidence linking slaughtered virgins with Cologne is this inscription,  to be found in  the Basilica of St Ursula in Cologne. It's date has been argued over endlessly, but it may date from the 4th century. The Latin has had scholars scratching their heads. The general view is that it tells us of one Clematius who, as a result of visions, rebuilt a ruined basilica in Cologne that has been built in honour of virgins who had been slaughtered in that place.

In the twelth century a cemetery was found not far from the church, which, somewhat inevitably, was  declared to be the resting place of Ursula and the virgins, despite the fact that there were remains of men and children, and even animals. The men could be explained away - the virgins had followers with them, after all - but the presence of children is somewhat problematic. One ingenious solution was that they were 'distant relatives' of the virgins, but an explanation as to what they were doing there was not forthcoming. 
  Nevertheless, the bones were all dug up and exhibited, and, to put it cynically, provided a huge boost to the Cologne relic trade.
Why 11,000?

How did that number 11,000 come about?  The Catholic Encyclopaedia comes up with this explanation:
    'As early as the end of the ninth century or the beginning of the tenth, the phrase "the eleven thousand virgins" is admitted without dispute. How was this number reached? All sorts of explanations have been offered, some more ingenious than others. The chief and rather gratuitous suppositions have been various errors of reading or interpretation, e.g., "Ursula and her eleven thousand companions" comes from the two names Ursula and Undecimillia, or from Ursula and Ximillia , or from the abbreviation XI. M. V. (undecim martyres virgines), misinterpreted as undecim millia virginum, etc. '  

  In other words, somewhere along the line an incompetent scribe made a hash of the translation. But, good for him, I say;  'St Ursula and the eleven virgins, doesn't quite have that ring to it, does it?  

Update: March 2015 
Our first trip to Cologne, and a visit to the Basilica of St Ursula was high on the agenda. Luckily for us, the 'Golden Chamber' was open for visitors at the very reasonable price of three euros a head, and photography was permitted! the sight of all those bones made us wonder whether there might have been 11,000 of them after all! 

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