Saint Ursula

"This article is about the saint. For schools by the same name, see St. Ursula Academy."Infobox Saint
name=Saint Ursula
death_date=date has been assigned by different writers to 238, 283, 383, 451, and 640.
feast_day=October 21
venerated_in=Roman Catholic Church

imagesize=100 px
titles=Virgin and Martyr
attributes=arrow; banner; cloak; clock; maiden shot with arrows; depicted accompanied by a varied number of companions who are being martyred in various ways; ship
patronage=Cologne, Delphi, England, archers, orphans, students
major_shrine=Cologne Cathedral

Saint Ursula ("small female bear" in Latin) is a British Christian saint. Her feast day in the Roman Catholic Church is October 21. Because of the lack of sure information about the anonymous group of holy virgins who on some uncertain date were killed at Cologne, ["Calendarium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 143] their commemoration was omitted from the Roman Catholic calendar of saints for universal liturgical celebration, when this was revised in 1969, but they have been kept in the Roman Martyrology, the official, though incomplete, list of saints of the Roman Catholic Church.

Her legend, probably unhistorical, [ [ Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins] ] [ [ Santi e Beati: Sant'Orsola e compagne] ] is that she was a Romano-British princess who, at the request of her father King Donaut of Dumnonia in south-west England, set sail to join her future husband, the pagan Governor Conan Meriadoc of Armorica (Brittany), along with 11,000 virginal handmaidens. However, a miraculous storm brought them over the sea in a single day to a Gaulish port, where Ursula declared that before her marriage she would undertake a pan-European pilgrimage. She headed for Rome, with her followers, and persuaded the Pope, Cyriacus (unknown in the pontifical records), and Sulpicius, Bishop of Ravenna, to join them. After setting out for Cologne, which was being besieged by Huns, all the virgins were beheaded in a dreadful massacre. The Huns' leader shot Ursula dead, supposedly in 383 (the date varies).


The legend of Ursula is based on a 4th- or 5th-century inscription from the Church of St. Ursula (on the Ursulaplatz) in Cologne. It states the ancient basilica had been restored on the site where some holy virgins were killed. [ [ Saint Ursula - Britannica Online Encyclopedia ] ] The text of the inscription is:


The "Catholic Encyclopedia" writes that “this legend, with its countless variants and increasingly fabulous developments, would fill more than a hundred pages. Various characteristics of it were already regarded with suspicion by certain medieval writers, and since Baronius have been universally rejected.” [ [ Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins] ] Neither Jerome nor Gregory of Tours refer to Ursula in their writings. [ [ Online Encyclopedia: Saint Ursula] ] However, it is noteworthy that Gregory of Tours does make mention of the legend of the Theban Legion, to whom a church was dedicated that once stood in Cologne. [ [ Online Encyclopedia: Saint Ursula] ] The most important hagiographers (Bede, Ado, Usuard, Notker the Stammerer, Rabanus Maurus) of the early Middle Ages also do not enter Ursula under 21 October, her feast day. [ [ Online Encyclopedia: Saint Ursula] ] A legend resembling Ursula’s appeared in its full form between 731 and 839, but it does not mention the name of Ursula, but that of Pinnosa or Vinnosa as the leader of the martyred group. [ [ Online Encyclopedia: Saint Ursula] ]

While there was a tradition of virgin martyrs in Cologne by the 5th century, this was limited to a small number between two and eleven according to different sources. The 11,000 were first mentioned in the 9th century; suggestions as to where this came from have included reading the name "Undecimillia" or "Ximillia" as a number, or reading the abbreviation "XI. M. V." as "eleven thousand (in Roman numerals) virgins" rather than "eleven martyred virgins". One scholar has written that in the eighth century, the relics of virgin martyrs were found, among which were included those of a girl named Ursula, who was eleven years old –in Latin, "undecimilia". "Undecimilia" was subsequently misread or misinterpreted as "undicimila" (11,000), thus producing the legend of the 11,000 virgins. [ [ Santi Beati: Sant'Orsola e compagne] ] Another theory is that there was only one virgin martyr, named Undecimilla, “which by some blundering monk was changed into eleven thousand.” [ [ The Penny Magazine: Cologne] ]

The Basilica of St. Ursula in Cologne contains the alleged relics of Ursula and her 11,000 companions. [ [ The Penny Magazine: Cologne] ] It contains what has been described as a "veritable tsunami of ribs, shoulder blades, and femurs...arranged in zigzags and swirls and even in the shapes of Latin words." [Christine Quigley, "Skulls and Skeletons: Human Bone Collections and Accumulations" (McFarland & Company Museums, 2001), 169.] The Goldene Kammer (Golden Chamber), a 17th century chapel attached to the Basilica of St. Ursula, contains sculptures of their heads and torsos, some of the heads encased in silver, others covered with stuffs of gold and caps of cloth of gold and velvet; loose bones thickly texture the upper walls.” [ [ The Penny Magazine: Cologne] ] [Christine Quigley, "Skulls and Skeletons: Human Bone Collections and Accumulations" (McFarland & Company Museums, 2001), 169.] The peculiarities of the relics themselves have thrown doubt upon the historicity of Ursula and her "11,000 maidens." When skeletons of little children, ranging in age from two months to seven years, were found buried with the sacred virgins in 1183, Hermann Joseph, a Praemonstratensian canon at Steinfeld, explained that these children were distant relatives of the eleven thousand. [ [ Online Encyclopedia: Saint Ursula] ] A surgeon of eminence was once banished from Cologne for opining that, among the collection of bones which are said to pertain to the heads, there were several belonging to full-grown mastiffs. [ [ The Penny Magazine: Cologne] ] The relics may have proceeded from a forgotten burial ground. [ [ The Ecole Glossary: Ursula] ]

It has also been theorized that Ursula is a Christianized form of the goddess Freya, who welcomed the souls of dead maidens. [ [ Online Encyclopedia: Saint Ursula] ]

Today the "story" of Saint Ursula is overwhelmingly considered to be fiction. Accordingly, nothing is known about the girls, if any, who are said to have been martyred at the spot. The commemoration, in the Mass (liturgy)|] of Saint Hilarion on 21 October, of Saint Ursula and her companions that was formerly in the Roman Catholic calendar of saints for use wherever the Roman Rite is celebrated was removed in 1969, because "their "Passio" is entirely fabulous: nothing, not even their names, is known about the virgin saints who were killed at Cologne at some uncertain time". ["Calendarium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 143] The Roman Martyrology, the official but professedly incomplete list of saints recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, speaks of these virgin saints as follows: "At Cologne in Germany, commemoration of virgin saints who ended their life in martyrdom for Christ in the place where afterwards the city's basilica was built, dedicated in honour of the innocent young girl Ursula who is looked on as their leader." ["Martyrologium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2001 ISBN 88-209-7210-7)] . Their feast day remains on 21 October.


Hildegard of Bingen composed many chants in honour of her. [An entire album of songs for St Ursula has been issued on CD by the a cappella group Anonymous 4: "11,000 Virgins: Chants for the Feast of St. Ursula", Harmonia Mundi, 1997.] It was recorded that Elizabeth of Schönau experienced a vision that revealed to her the martyrdom of Ursula and her companions. [ [ The Ecole Glossary ] ]

The street in London called "St Mary Axe" is sometimes said to be derived from a church, now demolished, dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, St Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins. It was said to be located where the skyscraper informally known as "the Gherkin" is now located. The church contained a holy relic: an axe used by the Huns to execute the virgins. However, this legend cannot be dated any earlier than 1514. [ [ ***Harben Dictionary Window*** ] ]

In the 1480s, Hans Memling fashioned a wooden shrine that contained the relics of Ursula. It told the story of Ursula in six bow-arched panels, with the two front panels showing Ursula accompanied by 10 virgins, each representing 1,000 virgins. [ [ The Memling Museum in Bruges, Brugge ] ]

Christopher Columbus named the Virgin Islands after Ursula and her virgins. On 21 October 1521, Ferdinand Magellan rounded Cape Virgenes and entered the Straits of Magellan, naming the cape after Ursula's virgins. Portuguese explorer João Álvares Fagundes in 1521 named 'Eleven Thousand Virgins' what is now known as Saint-Pierre and Miquelon.

A tradition in the Swiss city of Basel, about 400 km south of Cologne, has it that Ursula and her companions passed through Basel intending to go to Rome. The legend is commemorated in the name of Eleven Thousand Virgins Alley ("Elftausendjungfern-Gässlein"), which climbs one side of the Münsterberg hill at the heart of the city.

The Order of Ursulines, founded in 1535 by Angela Merici, and especially devoted to the education of young girls, has also helped to spread throughout the world the name and the cult of St. Ursula. St. Ursula was named the patron saint of students.


Cordula was, according to a legend in an edition of the Roman Martyrology presented in an English translation on a traditionalist Catholic Website, [ [ Oct 22 ] ] one of Ursula’s companions: "Being terrified by the punishments and slaughter of the others, Cordula hid herself, but repenting her deed, on the next day she declared herself to the Huns of her own accord, and thus was the last of them all to receive the crown of martyrdom". In his "Albert the Great" (R. Washbourne, 1876), 360-362, Joachim Sighart recounts that, on 14 February 1277, while work was being done at the church of St. John the Baptist (Johanniterkirche) in Cologne, Cordula’s body was discovered; it was fragrant and on her forehead was written: "Cordula, Queen and Virgin"; when Albert the Great heard of the finding, he sang mass and transferred the relics. Later, Cordula's supposed remains were moved to Königswinter and Rimini. [ [ Cordula's Web. St. Cordula Day. Cordula's Web Editors ] ] Cordula's head was claimed by the Cathedral of Palencia. [ [ Liverpool museums - 'The Life of St Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins', c.1400-1410' , by Valencian School | Artwork of the Month ] ]

The latest editions of the Roman Martyrology contain no mention whatever of any Saint Cordula. ["Martyrologium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2001 ISBN 88-209-7210-7)]

See also

* Ursula Julia Ledochowska (Canonised 2005)

External links

* [ Patron Saints: Ursula]
* [ Early British Kingdoms: St. Ursula]
* [ 'The life of St Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins'] in the [ Lady Lever Art Gallery]
* [ Catholic Encyclopedia]
* [ The Saints of Cornwall]
*It icon [ Sant' Orsola e compagne]


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