Saturday, 06 February 2016 15:12

St. Ursula Martyr

St. Angela chose St. Ursula for the patroness of the Company as a model of complete and radical (to the point of martyrdom) submission to Christ. St. Ursula as a teacher of the Christian doctrines of faith is to be an exemplar of an educator and teacher...


According to a popular early medieval legend, Ursula was the daughter of a Christian king of the Britons. The son of a pagan prince asked for her hand in marriage. Because of a delicate political situation she could not refuse him. Ursula, however, had already made a vow of virginity to Christ. Believing that God himself would defend her, despite of the circumstances, she gave her consent to the marriage. But she negotiated the following conditions: a three-year delay and a pilgrimage to Rome. Ten women of noble descent joined her (according to the legend, each one was accompanied by one thousand virgins – hence the later reference to “St. Ursula with her Companions”; there would have been approximately eleven thousand of them). For three years she taught them the principles of the Christian faith. On their way back from the pilgrimage, they were attacked in the area of Cologne by Huns, who were laying siege to the city. Ursula and her companions were murdered. According to the legend, the barbarians, influenced by the vision of a group of virgins entering heaven, abandoned their siege. The citizens respectfully buried the bodies of the virgins and built a church on the site of their martyrdom.

The cult of St. Ursula and her Companions goes back to the 4th century. A crypt discovered in Cologne dates from that time. Notations in the medieval liturgical texts, hagiographic literature, various forms of piety, works of painters and sculptors give testimony to the continuity of her cult. St. Ursula is the patron saint of parishes and chapels as well as of universities – Sorbonne in Paris, universities in Vienna and Coimbra. In 1493 Christopher Columbus named the newly discovered islands on the Caribbean Sea the Archipelago of Saint Ursula and eleven thousand virgins (current: the Virgin Islands). In 1535 St. Angela Merici established a teaching company in honour of St. Ursula, which became the rudiment of a numerous conventual family, commonly known as the Ursulines.


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