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Santa Úrsula and the Virgins

Tomorrow, October 21st, Spain and the rest of the Catholic world celebrate Santa Úrsula and the legend of the 11,000 marauded virgins. In the Spanish speaking world, the October 21st is called the Día de las Virgenes (in Mallorca, Dia de les Virges).

Here, in Mallorca, the night before the day is especially important, i. e. tonight, the Nit de les Verges. An endearing tradition has it that on the night before the virgins’ day, young men would present themselves in front of houses where the girl or young maiden they admire lives. These men either sing a song or else, are accompanied by a group of friends with instruments (flutes, guitars, drums, perhaps a bagpipe) to offer an instrumental piece. If the girl/virgin/maiden addressed is inclined to listen to the serenade, she would invite the man or group into her house and serve bunyols (buñuelos) and some sweet wine such as Muscatel or Malvasía. The male visitor would probably present a twig of mistletoe.

As things have changed in Spain and everywhere over the last twenty or thirty years, no proof is needed now that the adored young woman passes as a virgin. Suffice it to say that she is unmarried and has not borne a child.

If you live in any of the pueblos of Mallorca, you may hear some traditional music tonight played out in the streets. That’s the sign that the custom of the Nit de les Verges is still alive and well in your community. I am told that Mallorca is the only area in Spain still following this habit. We may be the last generation to witness this tradition.

The legend of Santa Ursula and her entourage of maidens goes back to the 4th or 5th century and a supposed massacre that occurred in Cologne (Germany). A stone carving at the Church of St. Ursula in Cologne reads as follows, to this day (consult with an online translator of your choice):

DIVINIS FLAMMEIS VISIONIB. FREQVENTER
ADMONIT. ET VIRTVTIS MAGNÆ MAI
IESTATIS MARTYRII CAELESTIVM VIRGIN
IMMINENTIVM EX PARTIB. ORIENTIS
EXSIBITVS PRO VOTO CLEMATIVS V. C. DE
PROPRIO IN LOCO SVO HANC BASILICA
VOTO QVOD DEBEBAT A FVNDAMENTIS
RESTITVIT SI QVIS AVTEM SVPER TANTAM
MAIIESTATEM HVIIVS BASILICÆ VBI SANC
TAE VIRGINES PRO NOMINE. XPI. SAN
GVINEM SVVM FVDERVNT CORPVS ALICVIIVS
DEPOSVERIT EXCEPTIS VIRCINIB. SCIAT SE
SEMPITERNIS TARTARI IGNIB. PVNIENDVM

The image was borrowed from the Internet, courtesy of ixent.org, showing a painting with the title Exhortació de Santa Úrsula. The Gothic painting is on display in the Església de Sant Francesc in Palma. The work is ascribed to a Maestro de Palma, possibly dating from the late 13th century. The quoted inscription from Cologne is borrowed from wikipedia.org.

Thank you very much, and

Moltes gràcies.

2 replies »

  1. I enjoy reading your blog! I studied at UIB 15 years ago, and some of my male Spanish friends serenaded a friend and me as part of this Nit. So happy to read that this lovely tradition continues.

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