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St Ursula and the military religious orders

Nicholson, Helen J. ORCID: 2016. St Ursula and the military religious orders. Cartwright, Jane, ed. The Cult of St Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, pp. 41-59.

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As the cult of St Ursula and her companions was extremely widespread during the Middle Ages, it is not surprising that the Military-Religious Orders shared in the cult and held some of the relics, as every religious order wanted to acquire such relics to demonstrate its piety and holiness. Relics associated with the 11,000 virgins were widely available after the discovery of the mass grave at Cologne in 1106, and particularly with the excavations of 1155–64. But in addition the martyrdom of the 11,000 virgins could have a particular relevance to the members of these orders. Ursula and her companions were executed by barbarians rather than give up their faith or their virginity, and they were pilgrims; factors that would make them particularly interesting to members of a Military Order, who were vowed to chastity, whose vocation involved defending pilgrims, and who had to hold on to their faith in the face of attack by non-Christians. In theory, any brother who was captured by the Muslims in the Holy Land and was invited to embrace Islam could call upon St Ursula and her companions for strength and inspiration. In addition, the 11,000 virgins were an example of a Christian group, effectively a community which travelled together, faced danger, suffered and died together: there was an obvious parallel with a religious order whose members travelled around Christendom and might well have to face danger, suffering and death together. All three of the leading international Military-Religious Orders possessed relics of the 11,000 virgins. Devotion to these relics would have encouraged the brothers to seek humility, patience and long-suffering in their everyday lives and encouraged them to stand firm in their faith and face martyrdom boldly on the battlefield. It is, however, difficult to tell how far individual brothers took up these devotions. The evidence I discuss in this article indicates that the Templars and Teutonic knights’ veneration of St Ursula and her companions was linked to local venerations. The only Templar to mention St Ursula and her companions, Brother William of Arreblay, was confused as to the saint’s identity. Only with the Hospitallers on Malta do we find evidence of liturgy and ceremonial clearly linked to St Ursula and her companions, and a house of sisters dedicated to these female saints who could represent communal pilgrimage by sea, fellowship and martyrdom at the hands of non-believers.

Item Type: Book Section
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: History, Archaeology and Religion
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D111 Medieval History
Uncontrolled Keywords: Knights Hospitaller, Knights Templar, Teutonic Knights, saints' cults
Publisher: University of Wales Press
ISBN: 9781783168675
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Last Modified: 02 Nov 2022 11:12

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