11000 Virgins and a Sock in My Shoe

My first day at the Louvre, of what will hopefully be many, I stood in front of a reliquary bust of St. Constance in the Italian sculpture section.

The look of the figure attracted me first, but it was the description translated into English that held my attention:

“[O]ne of the 11,000 virgin martyrs, companions of St. Ursula.”

Now the idea of a virgin martyr didn’t shock me. Growing up Catholic, I have read about the lives of more than a few. But the number 11,000 was a couple orders of magnitude higher than I would expect to be martyred in a single episode.

Page 1 of my Google search results substantiated my numerical suspicions. The Wikipedia page for St. Ursula suggests ways the figure might have been misconstrued in Latin. However, despite evidence of artificial inflation, the legend of St. Ursula and her 11,000 companions remains.

By the time I was standing in front of the bust of St. Constance contemplating the ranks of her martyrdom, it was late in the afternoon, and I had made peace with the sock gathered around my midfoot in my right shoe.

Earlier in the day, I had not been so tranquil. My first hour walking around Paris Saturday morning was spent reaching down into my shoe tugging at the sock so it would come up around my heel. I tried folding the little bit of extra material on the end of the sock around my ankle but nothing helped.

That sock wanted to be inside my shoe. So eventually I just left it in there–swapping the repetition of the heel slip for the steady discomfort of the midfoot bulge. Letting go of the struggle turned out to be the remedy. Rather than waiting for the sock to slip, I let it stay there and teach me its lessons:

  • Don’t trust a new sock with a long day’s journey.
  • Find a way to sit (or in this case stand) with discomfort.
  • Even an expensive sock can let you down.

I returned to the Louvre two days later and visited St. Constance again. She looked the same as did her story. But my interpretation of it had changed…as had my socks.

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