October 20, 2017

Sts. Ursula and Companions, Legendary Virgin Martyrs

Sts. Ursula and Companions

Commemoration - October 21st

According to a legend that appeared in the 10th century, Ursula was the daughter of a Christian King in Britain and was granted a three-year postponement from a marriage she refused to a pagan prince. With ten ladies in waiting, each attended by a thousand maidens, she set on a voyage across the North Sea, sailed the Rhine to Basle, and then went to Rome. On their return, they were massacred by pagan Huns at Cologne in 451 when Ursula refused to marry their chieftain.

According to another account, America was settled by British colonizers and soldiers after Emperor Magnus Clemens Maximus conquered Britain and Gaul in 383. The ruler of the settlers, Cynan Meiriadog, called upon King Dionotus of Cornwall for wives for the settlers. Dionotus sent his daughter Ursula, who was to marry Cynan, with eleven thousand noble maidens and sixty thousand common women. Their fleet was shipwrecked and the women were enslaved or murdered.

The legends are pious fictions, but what is true is that one Clematius, a senator, rebuilt a basilica in Cologne that had originally been constructed probably at the beginning of the 4th century, to honor a group of virgins who had been martyred at Cologne. They were evidently venerated enough to have had a church built in their honor, but who they were and how many of them there were are unknown. It is from these meager facts that the legend of St. Ursula developed and spread.

The 11,000 number probably resulted from a misreading of the term "11M" which indicated 11 Martyrs, but which a copyist took for a Roman numeral. St. Ursula is the namesake for the Ursuline Order, founded for the education of young Catholic girls and women. May your grace, O Lord, we pray, at all times go before us and make us ever more determined to carry out good works. Through our Lord Jesus Christ who reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever. Amen.

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