St. Ursula (and the eleven
thousand virgins) was the daughter of a British Christian king betrothed
to a pagan prince. Wishing to preserve her virginity, she obtained a three-year
postponement, which she spent cruising on ship, according to legend: accompanied
by ten noblewomen virgin companions, each occupying a ship with a thousand
virgin handmaids. A storm blew them to the mouth of the Rhine, after what
they sailed to Cologne and set out on a pilgrimage to Rome, where they
met the Pope, Cyriacus. They sailed on to Basel and then returned to Cologne,
where they were all martyred by the Huns for their Christianity after Ursula
refused to marry their leader. The leader of the Huns allegedly shot Ursula
dead with an arrow.
Various sources claim that the actual number of virgins accompanying
St. Ursula was between three and ten. Theories of where the eleven thousand
came from include the possible misreading of the abbreviation “XI M.V.”,
supposedly standing for “eleven martyred virgins” (“undecim martyres virgines”),
as “eleven thousand virgins” (“undecim millia virgines”). Ursula’s feast
day is October 21, but is no longer listed in the universal calendar since
1969 after the Roman reform of the calendar.
See: Giovanni Bellini. Madonna
and Child between SS. Catherine and Ursula.
Martyrdom of St. Ursula.
Hans Memling The
Martyrdom of St. Ursula's Companions and The Martyrdom of St. Ursula.
Vittore Carpaccio. Legend
of St. Ursula: The Meeting with the Pope. Legend
of St. Ursula: St. Ursula's Dream. The
Legend of St. Ursula: The Arrival of the English Ambassadors. The
Legend of St. Ursula: Departure of the Ambassadors. The
Legend of St. Ursula: Return of the Ambassadors. The
Legend of St. Ursula: The Meeting of the Betrothed and the Departure for
the Pilgrimage. The Legend
of St. Ursula: Arrival in Cologne. The
Legend of St. Ursula: Martyrdom and Funeral of St. Ursula. The
Legend of St. Ursula: Apotheosis of St. Ursula.
By Sergey Mataev and Olga Mataev
of the Saints: From Mary and Francis of Assisi to John XXIII and Mother
Teresa by Richard McBrien (Author). Harper San Francisco, 2001.
Oxford Dictionary of Saints (Oxford Paperback Reference) by
David Hugh Farmer. Oxford University Press, 2003.