Religion and Devotion
LTK 263 (Leiden?, Netherlands, 1437): Jacobus de Voragine, Legenda Aurea (The golden legend), paper, 179 fols., 289 x 210 mm, 2 cols., 36-39 lines.

The tale of St. Ursula and the 11,000 virgins is one of the most popular legends in the later Middle Ages. It tells the story of St. Ursula, who was murdered by the Huns in Cologne together with the 11,000 virgins who had accompanied her on her pilgrimage. Allegedly, the bones of these women were found in Cologne in 1106. Soon after this discovery, many relics of the virgins were transferred to churches all throughout Europe. The relics of St. Basilia, one of the 11,000 virgins, were donated to the Convent of Mariënhaven in Warmond (Netherlands) in the beginning of the fifteenth century.

This particular convent owned a manuscript – donated by the Leiden citizen Willem Heeman – that contains the Legenda Aurea (The Golden Legend) by Jacobus de Voragine (see also LTK 278). This text is credited for making popular the legend of St. Ursula. De Voragine only briefly discusses St. Basilia in the Legenda Aurea, but a member of the convent added two leaves to the back of the manuscript with more information about her life (fols. 177r - 178v). The manuscript contains rubrics and is decorated with colored initials.

(Lieftinck, 1948, pp. 77-78)


  1. Before a scribe could begin to fill the quires with text, the layout of the page needed to be designed and prepared. What instruments did the scribe of this manuscript use to prepare the pages?
  2. Book design was not only influenced by the manner in which the book would be used, but also by its contents. This is not surprising, of course, since contents and use are closely related: you generally use a book because of the texts it contains. Perform a modest online search about the text in this book and assess for what reason or reasons it was commonly used (education, church rituals, reference, professional use, etc.). Now try to relate the contents of the book to the material features it was given. Can you relate the two? Which material features you observe make sense now you know more about the text? Are there any that don’t?


  1. Lieftinck, G. I. (1948). Codices Manuscripti V: codicum in finibus belgarum ante annum 1550 conscriptorum qui in bibliotheca universitatis asservantur (Vol. 1). Brill.