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Today in My History

2000: Singing and Laughing in the Rain
2001: Thought Goulash
2002: Read Any Good Books Lately?
2003: Taffic! Pollution! Heat!
2004Everything Hurts

2005: Eau de Doggie
2006: The Good Old Days?
2007: Down Memory Lane
2008: Where No Man Has Gone Before
2009:  Not a Team Player
2010: Gay Kids are Dying
2011: Performance Anxiety.


Bitter Hack
Updated: 10/08
"Enron"
"The Miracle Worker"


Books Read in 2012
 Updated: 10/10
"Other Voices, Other Rooms"


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mail to Walt

ST. URSULA

21 October 2012

I always wonder, on quiet days like this, what I am going to write about when it comes time to put this journal entry together.  Today I resort to Catholic mythology.  Or Christian mythology.  Or German mythology.

Let me explain.

Walt found a PBS travel program of tour guide Bert Wolf (kind of a richer version of Rick Steeve).  He was taking a river cruise from Amsterdam to ... I can't remember where his ending destination was, but he was in Amsterdam last week and today in Cologne.  I missed the Amsterdam program,but watched the one on Cologne.

At first it was kind of your standard travelguide, and it was fun to see the interior of the magnificent Cologne cathedral again.

But then he visited another cathedral in Cologne, one that we hadn't heard about, and here is where it started to get weird.  As he toured the place with a priest guide, Wolf explained that St. Ursula and 11,000 virgins were slaughtered on this site by Huns some time in the 4th century.  The church is full of memorials to the martyrs.  Since the women supposedly were all beheaded there are lots of female busts on altars.  The tops of the busts are removable and inside are skulls supposedly found on the site, wrapped in cloth from medieval times.  In the basement the walls are filled with designs made out of bones, and even sayings written in bone.

Very creepy.

But the story gets better, and oh so Catholic, when I went to the Internet to check out St. Ursula.  The legend is apparently based on an inscription on the Church of St. Ursula in Cologne, built in the 4th or 5th century where it said that on this site "some holy virgins" were killed.

The number is supposedly closer to 2-11 virgins martyred, rather than 11,000.  The number 11,000 didn't come up until the 9th century. and may have been based on a mis-translation of the name Unidecimilla, a person, to mean 11,000, a number.   In fact, some speculate that there was one virgin martyr named Unidecimilla, a girl of about 11 years of age "which by some blundering monk was changed into eleven thousand."

And you thought spell check is bad TODAY!

The basilica of St. Ursula, which I am very sorry now to have missed, supposedly contains the ancient relics of the perhaps fictitious Ursula and her possibly nonexistant 11,000 companions.

I loved this quote:

[The basilica] contains what has been described as a "veritable tsunami of ribs, shoulder blades, and femurs...arranged in zigzags and swirls and even in the shapes of Latin words." The Goldene Kammer (Golden Chamber), a 17th century chapel attached to the Basilica of St. Ursula, contains sculptures of their heads and torsos, some of the heads encased in silver, others covered with stuff of gold and caps of cloth of gold and velvet; loose bones thickly texture the upper walls." The peculiarities of the relics themselves have thrown doubt upon the historicity of Ursula and her 11,000 maidens. When skeletons of little children, ranging in age from two months to seven years, were found buried with one of the sacred virgins in 1183, Hermann Joseph, a  Praemonstratensian canon at Steinfeld, explained that these children were distant relatives of the eleven thousand. A surgeon of eminence was once banished from Cologne for suggesting that, among the collection of bones which are said to pertain to the heads, there were several belonging to full-grown mastiffs. The relics may have come from a forgotten burial ground.

Whether Ursula and her 11,000 friends lived or not, whether they were slaughtered or not, the whole story is just so catholic, it seems, the delight in raising body parts to the status of holy relics and worshipping at the feet...perhaps literally...of people who may or may not have been the superheroes of their day. 

Can you imagine this appearing as a story in some tabloid newspaper, along with Bat Boy, alien abductions. and that story of the crazy town where you can be given a ticket for snoring in your own bed?


Today was the Big Game, Cal-Stanford (for those who don't know what "the Big Game" is), as well as the 30th anniversary of "The Play."  As for how the game went...let's just say there was no joy in Mudville this afternoon.

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