Who was Saint Ursula?

This artwork was painted circa 1411 showing the City of Cologne to the left and St. Ursula on the right.

Kirche St. Ursula

In the Basilica of St. Ursula in Cologne is a stone, found on site in the 9th century, that contains a Roman inscription dating to the 4th century CE. It says that a Roman senator named Clematius, encouraged by divine visions, traveled to Cologne to rebuild an old church that commemorated the burial site of a group of Christian virgins who had died for their faith on that spot.

The legend is that Ursula, the daughter of a Christian king in Britain was betrothed to the son of a pagan king. Not wanting to marry, Ursula was granted her request of a three-year delay to the marriage. Ursula took her ladies-in-waiting and companions and left England on 11 ships for a 3-year pilgrimage to Rome, stopping in various cities along the way. On their return journey in 383 CE they stopped in Cologne. There all the ladies-Christians virgins-were massacred outside the gates of the city by the nomadic Central Asian Huns who, at the time, were preparing to attack Cologne.

By the 10th century the story of the number of Christian virgins that had been slaughtered were said to number 11,000 which became an accepted number.

Excavations at the “Field of Ursula”, an enormous Roman burial site outside the gates of Cologne supported that theory and provided the necessary bones as proof of the legend. One of the walls in the Basilica of St. Ursula is said to contain thousands of bones but the area was closed off during our visit.

The Basilica of St. Ursula is where the sepulchre of Saint Ursula can be found along with a number of painted panels that portray St. Ursula’s life and death. It was, however, the canvases painted in 1492-1496 telling her story, which we saw at the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne, that were breath-taking.

By the 20th century little evidence was found to verify the legend. The skeletons are now thought to be the remains of average people buried in a churchyard during Roman times and the name of the Pope mentioned during Ursula’s visit in Rome cannot be found. Although sainthood cannot be revoked, in 1969 Saint Ursula was “demoted” and removed from the Vatican’s list of official feast days by the Vatican and Pope Paul VI.

For 1,500 years, the experiences of Ursula and her 11,000 companions had acquired a considerable following. The legend resulted in her veneration throughout Europe, India and China and many churches and shrines have been dedicated to her. It is claimed that Christopher Columbus named the Virgin Islands after Ursula and her virgins. The Order of Ursulines, founded in 1535 spread her name throughout the world and Saint Ursula is the patron saint of students and teachers, the British Virgin Islands, the city of Cologne and the University of Paris.

Saint Ursula


On a lighter note we came across this curious 1899 fountain called Heinzelmännchen, or in English, the Brownie Fountain.

The Heinzelmännchen, according to legend, were hard-working gnomes/brownies who assisted every citizen of the city by doing at least one piece of tiresome work overnight when each citizen was asleep so that the citizens could relax more and enjoy their days. However, one night the curious tailor’s wife observed them working and they disappeared forever afterwards.

The large fountain shows the tailor’s wife at the top of a stairwell holding a lantern and watching the brownies. We were able to recognize a carpenter, baker, butcher, bartender and a tailor by the tools each were holding.

The Brownie Fountain (Heinzelmännchenbrunnen)

Museum Ludwig

The Lud­wig Museum is home to one of the more im­por­tant art col­lec­tions of the 20th and 21st centuries. They have the 3rd largest Pi­cas­so col­lec­tion in the world, an im­por­tant col­lec­tion of Ger­man Ex­pres­sion­ism and many Rus­sian avant-garde works.

One German Expressionist painter’s work that we particularly enjoyed was August Macke (1887-1914)

Lady in a Green Jacket, 1913 by August Macke

Many Ger­man Ex­pres­sion­ist artists were persecuted and their work destroyed as ‘degenerate’ during the Nazi regime, so after the war in 1946 when Josef Haubrich donated his art col­lec­tion of Ger­man Ex­pres­sion­ist works, the city was thrilled to add them to the museum. The Haubrich collection included paintings by Max Beck­mann, Marc Cha­gall, Heinrich Hoerle, Au­gust Macke and many others. Cologne artist Heinrich Hoerle (1895-1936) created each of the 3 paintings in 1929, 1930 and 1933 that we have collaged together here.

Portrait of Trude Alex, 1933, Melancholy Girl, 1930 + Mardi Gras, 1929.
Heinrich Hoerle, painter.

In 1976, 30 years after the Haubrich donation, another spec­tac­u­lar collection was given to the ci­ty by collectors Peter and Irene Lud­wig. The Ludwig’s unique col­lec­tion included Amer­i­can Pop Art mas­ter­pie­ces – creating the largest col­lec­tion of Amer­i­can Pop Art out­side the Unit­ed States; numerous Pablo Picasso works – creating the 3rd largest collection of Picasso in the World; an extensive collection of im­por­tant Rus­sian art pieces – creating the largest collection of Russian Art in the West; and 1960’s and 1970’s abstract pieces by Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and many more.

The col­lec­tion is cont­in­u­al­ly ex­pand­ing through purchas­es and do­na­tions and this work by the Polish artist, Otto Freundlich stood out. He was called one of the most original abstract artists of the 20th century. The Museum is presenting 80 objects of his life’s work. He died in Majdanek concentration camp in Poland in 1943. Freundlich produced not only paintings and sculptures but also stained-glass windows and mosaics. This piece below is one of his mosaics and titled the Birth of Man.

Birth of Man, 1919 by Otto Freundlich

Museum Schnütgen

St. Cecilia’s Church, built in 1160, is one of 12 Romanesque churches in Cologne’s old town and since 1956, it has been the home of the Schnütgen Museum of Medieval Art.

Johann Wilhelm Alexander Schnütgen (1843-1918) was a German Catholic theologian, priest and art collector. In 1866 he was ordained to the priesthood and as a new vicar he would find neglected, old, out-of-favor and considered worthless, works of art in dusty storage corners of churches. He began to collect and save them from further decay and degradation. His motto became “colligite fragmenta, ne pereant” (collect the remaining pieces lest they perish).

In 1906 he donated his 40-year, 6,500 piece art collection to the city of Cologne in 1906. Today, the Schnütgen Museum’s collection has nearly doubled in size.

This reliquary bust below is from 1350. The style of her headdress or veil has a ruffled edge and was called a kruseler.

Reliquary bust with a Kruseler veil, Cologne, 1350

Flora und Botanischer Garten

A tram ride north of the city and we arrived at Cologne’s lovely 28 acre botanical garden. It was a scorching summer day so finding shade in the park gave us, at the least, an illusion of being cooler. The glass palace in the center of our photo below is named Flora and was inspired by London’s 1860’s Crystal Palace. We stopped in the Flora for an ice cold beverage after spending a couple of hours exploring the park.

Flora und Botanischer Garten

Skulpturenpark Köln

Just before entering the Botanical Gardens we were distracted by this attractive sculpture park. With nearly 50 art installations from modern artists we enjoyed our quick jaunt through. This sculpture is called Approximation, Corn Snakes Hatching by Estonian installation artist, Katja Novitskova (1984-)

Corn snakes hatching, 2017 by Katja Novitskova

We leave you with this graphic photo of the train station in Cologne as we bid farewell to this western German city.

Cologne train station

Prost from these Colognesi,

Ted + Julia

View our Museum Ludwig photo album here

View our Schnütgen Museum photo album here

View the Rest of Cologne photo album here

View our Basilica of St. Ursula (Kirche St. Ursula) photo album here

View our Botanical garden (Flora und Botanischer Garten) photo album here

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