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St Ursula

One of the legends pictures Ursula as the daughter of a king of Britain. The king desired for a son, God gave him instead a baby-girl, but with the heart of a man. The child was called Ursula, because one day she would strangle the devil, as David had done once with the bear. In Latin ’Ursus’ means bear. Raised according to her state, yet detached from the riches of the world, Ursula longed for spiritual things and meditated day and night on the law of God. Her hand was sought in marriage by the son of a barbarian and pagan king, but reassured in a dream from heaven that she would receive the palm of martyrdom, Ursula promised to give herself in marriage on the following conditions: her father and fiance were to choose ten young companions for her, for each one including herself, they were to add another thousand; they would procure eleven ships and allow them three years to celebrate their virginity.

Very soon the great virginal adventure began. Surrounded by her army of virgins, for the most part pagans, Ursula, her face and heart radiant with joy, gave thanks to God, and then, she revealed her great secret to her companions. With pious exhortations, she began instructing them in the practice of the love of God. They listened to her very intently, then raising their hands and hearts to heaven, as if they had already promised themselves to Christ with a soldiers oath to allegiance, they promised to be faithful to all their religious duties and to encourage each other to carry them out. The transformation of these young girls took place on board ship where they celebrated over a period of three years.

A storm drove the ships from Britain towards the Rhine. The Captain of this adventure, Ursula poured forth her nuptial song to the heavenly spouse. During the night, a heavenly messenger came to Ursula to announce a pilgrimage to Rome, the return to Cologne and the martyrdom. When Ursula told her companions about her dream they rejoiced.

At Cologne, the Huns fell upon the virgins with savage cries, and ruthlessly massacred this innocent flock. The renown of Ursula and of her countless retinue spread very rapidly throughout medieval Europe from 1106 on wards. This was the year when the ancient Roman cemetery was discovered. Faced with such a quantity of bones, the inhabitants of Cologne believed they had found the burial-ground of Ursula and her companions and the legend of the Eleven Thousand Virgins received the official blessing of History. Since then many details were added to this legend, many legends began to originate and the devotion to St Ursula became wide spread.

Today the study proves that there were some virgins, martyred at Cologne between the third and fourth Centuries; they immediately became the object of a cult; inspite of the barbarian invasions their cult was kept alive; regarding their number, names and the circumstance of their martyrdom, nothing is to be found in documents of historical value.

St Ursula still remains a revered figure to the Ursulines because she is very much connected to the foundation of the original group called Company of St Ursula by St Angela Merici. Ursula and her companions, the virgin martyrs of the 4th Century touched the deepest aspirations of Angela by their faith, virginity, courage and fidelity even to the shedding of their blood. In Ursula she chose a patron for her Company who embodied the ideals she and her companions would try to live. The members of the Company, the virgins who were to live in the midst of the world were entrusted to the protection of St Ursula, so that like her they may be able to fight generously in defense of their virginal purity and innocence.