A man named Henri Fontal was engaged to a very religious woman named Gilberte. One day, he had to go to Cologne for a consultation and promised to bring her back a souvenir. She asked for something that would cost no more than twenty francs and would be very ingenious and pretty. In return, she promised to kiss him.
I am very glad you are going, then! You must bring me back something; a mere trifle, just a souvenir, but a souvenir that you have chosen for me.
While in Cologne, Henri found a small piece of a bone of one of the eleven thousand virgins enclosed in a charming old silver box. However, he lost the relic and replaced it with a similar fragment. When he gave it to Gilberte, she was overjoyed and believed it to be authentic. Henri lied and told her he had stolen it from the cathedral in Cologne.
I stole it for you. In the cathedral; in the very shrine of the Eleven Thousand Virgins.
Two months later, Gilberte and her father visited Cologne and discovered the truth about the relic. She broke off their engagement and demanded a real, authentic relic certified by the Pope as a condition for their reconciliation. Desperate, Henri turned to his old school friend, the Abbé Louis d'Ennemare, for help.
The Abbé was unable to provide the relic, but Madame d'Arville, a cousin of both Gilberte and the Abbé, informed Henri that he might obtain his pardon if he could bring her a certified relic of a virgin and martyr. Henri considered going to Rome to obtain the relic but was unsure if private individuals were allowed to have them. He asked the Abbé for an introduction to a cardinal or a French prelate who might have the relic in their collection.