Saint Ursula and Her Companions, Virgins, Martyrs

October 21

Today is the feast day of Saint Ursula and her Companions.  Orate pro nobis.

Saint Ursula was born in Great Britain of Christian parents; her father, Maurus, was king of Cornubia in Scotland. Ursula was sought in marriage by a young pagan prince, but had already vowed her life and her heart to Jesus Christ.

Saint Ursula and her Companions

by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876

To-day we commemorate the festival of St. Ursula and her companions. Although her life and martyrdom are variously described by different historians, we cannot therefore conclude with some heretical writers, that she never existed, and that all that has been told of her are fables; for, although historians differ in some points, yet all unanimously declare that St. Ursula and her companions sacrificed their lives for their faith, and in defence of their virginity. The short sketch we give of this Saint is partly taken from the works of the celebrated Baronius, and partly from the Roman Breviary.

The Roman General, Maximus, surnamed Flavius Magnus Clemens, who commanded the Imperial armies in Great Britain, caused himself, in 383, to be proclaimed Emperor by his soldiers, while the lawful Emperor Gratian was still alive. After this, he crossed the sea, landed on the shores of France, took possession of a large portion of it, drove the inhabitants away, and occupied the land with his soldiers, among whom he divided the conquered towns and villages. Conanus, a tributary king in Great Britain, who commanded one part of the army of this new Emperor, advised him to bring from England virgins, who might be given in marriage to the new inhabitants of the conquered land, in order to keep them in obedience and fidelity to their master. Maximus, pleased with this advice, sent an embassy to Great Britain, and stating his reasons, demanded a great number of maidens. The Britons hesitated not to consent to the new Emperor’s demand, because many of his soldiers were Britons and because Maximus had given them considerable property. They, therefore, assembled the desired number of virgins, placed them in several boats, and sent them to France. The noblest among them was Ursula, daughter of the king of Wales, who was to become the spouse of Conanus.

The wisdom of the Almighty, however, had decreed otherwise; for, whilst the ships sailed from England to France, contrary winds arose, which drove them all to the shores of Germany. It is believed that they went up the Rhine, and landed in the neighborhood of Cologne. At that period, the wild Huns happened to be there, whom the Emperor Gratian had called to his aid against Maximus, who resided for some time at Treves. When these heathens beheld this large number of virgins, they forced them to land and would have sacrificed them to their lust. Ursula, however, the Christian heroine, exhorted all, rather to suffer the most bitter death than consent to evil. All followed her admonition, and courageously resisted the savages, who, in their furious rage, killed the defenseless virgins with swords, arrows and clubs. Only one of the maidens, Cordula, had escaped and concealed herself during the massacre; but repenting of her timidity, she revealed herself on the following day, and last of all, she received the crown of martyrdom. The bodies of the holy virgins were buried, with great solemnities, by the inhabitants of Cologne. Their memory, however, and the veneration with which they were regarded, were not confined within the walls of this town, but spread over the whole Christian world. (1)

Prayer to St. Ursula and Companions

O Glorious St. Ursula! Blessed Martyr of Jesus Christ! who didst despise the riches and dignities of this world for the love of God, and wert so happy as to lay down even thy life for His sake, take me under thy powerful protection–shield me by thy prayers from the dangers of the world, and teach me by thy example how to triumph over its temptations. I am not worthy to lay down my life for Him who died for me; yet, as I know that I may have many temptations, to suffer from the world and my own corrupt inclinations, I have recourse to thee with confidence, to implore, through thy intercession, the strength to resist and overcome them all; and to remember, on all occasions, that the life of a Christian, if not laid down for Christ by martyrdom, should at least be sacrificed to His glory by penance and self-denial. Thou art, O great Saint! my special Patroness, therefore I humbly recommend to thee all my undertakings, and beg of thee, as thou wert so particularly gifted by God with the power of persuading others to the practice of virtue, to obtain for me the grace to love and the duties of a Christian, and to endeavor by good example to engage others in the service of God. O glorious Martyr! whose death was an act of the most perfect charity, be thou my protectress in my last moments, and intercede for me now, that I may prepare for them by the fervent practice of those solid virtues, which alone will furnish ground for confidence in the mercy of God on the bed of death.

Image: The Martyrdom of St. Ursula, part of the Saint Ursula Shrine, artist: Hans Memling, circa 1489. (6)

Research by REGINA Staff



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