Sanstierce and Ars Choralis Coeln

Music for Saint Ursula

  • Cologne Archdiocesan and Cathedral Library (13th century)
  • Anna von Hachenberch Codex from the Schnütgen Museum (c. 1520)
  • Giant Codex (Hildegard of Bingen, 1098-1179)

Eleven black drops – in Cologne they also speak of tears – adorn the Cologne city coat of arms and thus remind us of Saint Ursula, the daughter of Maurus, King of Britain. Numerous legends have grown up around the patron saint of Cologne. It is less well known that we have the mystic Elisabeth von Schönau to thank for the fact that this local legend became something more. Elisabeth (1129-1164) was much better known in the Middle Ages than Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), who was in contact with her. Both mystics were Benedictine nuns and lived not far from each other. Like Hildegard, Elisabeth came from a noble family in the Rhineland and at the age of twelve was given to the Schönau Monastery in the Taunus, where she spent her entire life from then on. Her visions were recorded by her brother: the Book of God's Ways (Liber viarum dei) and the Book of Revelations of Elisabeth about the Army of the Cologne Virgins (Liber revelationum Elisabeth de sacro exercitu virginum Coloniensium). The latter seemed to answer an essential question of the time: were the bones found in an old Roman cemetery outside the Cologne city walls during work from 1106 actually Saint Usula and her host? At the time, few doubted that these bone finds had to be Ursula and her companions, as they had long been venerated in Cologne and throughout the Rhineland. But in view of the quantity of bone finds, questions arose – and (Cologne) solutions were found: "People began to come up with names for Ursula's assumed companions and to invent relatives for them, then to justify the considerable remains of male bones, a whole escort of kings, a pope, cardinals and bishops who would have shared their lot with the virgins." Deutz monks, who had been entrusted with the administration of the finds, turned to the visionary in the Taunus in 1156, having become uncertain, with the request to learn more about the names and lives of the Maeyrtyrs. The visionary saw confirmed in her visions that it was Ursula and her companions:

"To you who cherish pious affection for that which is holy, I, Elizabeth, the servant of the handmaids of the Lord who live in Schönau, open what has been revealed to me by the grace of God concerning that virgin host of the holy Queen of Britain Ursula, who suffered martyrdom in a suburb of the city of Cologne for the name of Christ in the days of old...".

This meant that an immeasurable treasure of relics was available to the people of Cologne with a clear conscience – despite criticism that was already emerging at the time. Although Pope Boniface IX forbade any further veneration of Ursula relics in 1381, trade in them continued to flourish in Cologne, helping the city to gain prestige and wealth. The head reliquaries of the 11,000 virgins – whose smiles even influenced the type of Rhenish depictions of the Madonna! – are still to be found in the Golden Chamber of St. Ursula's Church.

About the music I have chosen for this programme:

Hildegard von Bingen left us a lot of music, but only one Office, namely that of the 11,000 Virgins, from which I have chosen antiphons, a responsory and a hymn. But of course there are also manuscripts in Cologne itself with offices of Ursula. For example, the Cathedral and Diocesan Library has a magnificent sequence in which, according to the story of Elisabeth von Schönau, bishops, brothers and even the Pope travelled together on the Rhine with Ursula. And the Schnütgen Museum, a former women's convent, also has a codex, the so-called Hachenberch Codex, in which there is also an Ursula Office. Both of these Cologne officers can only be found in Cologne.

Now, perhaps the interested early music lover will wonder why I have brought in an Iraqi musician, Bassem Hawar, who studied djoze in Baghdad and is a master of maqam playing, to perform this music. Apart from the fact that he is an excellent musician with whom I am extremely happy to work, there is another reason. The story of Ursula is about barbarian pagans, the Huns: they cruelly murdered Ursula and her band. It seems to me almost an archaic sacrificial ritual: the virgins must die at the hands of the barbarians. But what does the word "barbarian" actually mean? The term barbarian has undergone many changes of meaning right up to our own day. Originally, the term comes from the ancient Greek: βάρβαρος (bárbaros) and is found for the first time in Homer's "Illiad" in reference to the "barbarian-speaking" Carians of Asia Minor. So the word originally meant: someone who does not speak and understand my language, i.e. all non-Greeks, all foreigners. At first, this was not an expression of contempt. Today, we understand it to mean a crude, insensitive and cruel person without culture, definitely connected with a fear of the foreigner and the foreigners.

But on closer inspection, the foreign usually turns out to be not so foreign at all. My profession, music, may serve as an example: The music of the Gregorian chant and the European Middle Ages, on which European music history is very successfully built, come from the same roots as Iraqi and Oriental music. We share many similarities, many strangenesses, but it belongs together, it fits together. And more than that: we need the foreign to curiously get to know and understand the world.


Invitatorium de undecim milibus virginibus

Regem regum dominum
Kölner Dom- und Erzdiözesanbibliothek, Codex 263, um 1310
Psalm 94: Venite exultemus

Antiphonæ de undecim milibus virginibus

Aer enim volat
Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), Dendermonde
Psalm 112: Laudate pueri Dominum

Studium divinitatis
Psalm 116: Laudate Dominum omnes

O rubor sanguinis
Psalm 145: Lauda anima mea

O flos campi
Hachenberch Codex, Bd.b, um 1520
Psalm 150: Laudate Dominum in sanctis eius

Interludio instrumentale

Es war einmal …
Bassem Hawar

Hymnus de undecim milibus virginibus

Gaude celestis curia
Kölner Dom- und Erzdiözesanbibliothek, Codex 1157, 15./16. Jh.

Sequentia de undecim milibus virginibus

Alleluya In supernis concors choris
Kölner Dom- und Erzdiözesanbibliothek, Codex 1150, um 1360

Interludio instrumentale

Media autem nocte
Lucia Mense

Responsoria de undecim milibus virginibus

O celestis aule rose
Hachenberch Codex

Spiritui Sancto
Hildegard von Bingen, Dendermonde

Interludio instrumentale

Lamento al mare
Bassem Hawar

Hymnus de undecim milibus virginibus

Cum vox sanguinis
Hildegard von Bingen, Riesencodex