Who is Saint Ursula?

The history of St. Ursula is riddled with intriguing but tragic stories. Historians place the martyred saint’s existence between 400-600AD. 

Famously known for having 11,000 virgin followers (with no Twitter account), this Christian saint was said to have been of Roman-British descent. She has inspired multiple legends based on her endeavors around Europe, and we’ll be discussing some of these tales in this article.

The Story of Saint Ursula and the 11,000 British Virgins

One of the most shockingly gruesome medieval tales has to be the story of Saint Ursula and her traveling companions of 11 or 11,000 British Virgin followers, depending on the version you were told as a child. There are multiple accounts of the story, but many revolve around her European Pilgrimage.

Origins

St. Ursula fresco - The Proud Italian

To fully understand the story of Saint Ursula, you have to start right at the beginning. Though it is not clear when exactly she was born, it is believed that Ursula was of royal descent -a princess and daughter of King Dionotus of Dumnonia in South-West Britain.

Most stories portray her as a beautiful and profoundly spiritual warrior princess with a stern religious character. Her leadership and prowess bought her favor with her fellow maidens, who she quickly converted to Christianity.

Royal engagement

If you’re familiar with medieval royal customs, then you know that royal marriages were just that, royal. Ursula was betrothed to a pagan governor named Conan Meriadoc of Armorica. 

Unfortunately for women, that era offered very little freedom of choice, even for royalty. Ursula was to meet her fiance in his homeland by order of her father, the king. He commanded 11,000 virgin handmaidens to accompany her daughter across the sea. They were to help the newly settled Armoricans to populate and establish a new kingdom.

The journey begins

Initially, Saint Ursula’s journey was intended to be a wedding voyage. A king’s promise was fulfilled. The great scandal of Saint Ursula is that instead of keeping her father’s promise and sailing to Armorica, she chose her God-given path.

St. Ursula's shrine - The Proud Italian

It is said that she traveled with a miraculous storm that hastened her journey, bringing her to a  ghoulish Netherland port in a single day. Upon arrival, the reluctant bride decided to take her company of 11,000 virgins and head for Rome, Italy, where she intended to persuade the pope to join a European Pilgrimage.

Pope Cyriacus and the Bishop of Ravenna, who were the leaders of the Roman Catholic church at the time, agreed to join the princess on her voyage of charity across Europe. 

The gruesome end

When Saint Ursula got to the city of Cologne, Germany, she was met with open arms by the locals. They quickly embraced her teachings and adopted her philosophy.

Unfortunately, Europe was still experiencing a large migration, and raiders were pretty common. for the princess and her travel companions. The invading Huns proved to be formidable as a foe.

The invasive group found Saint Ursula and her handmaidens in the city of Cologne, Germany. After a brutal massacre of her followers, Saint Ursula met her end at the tip of an arrow. She and her company were executed for refusing to cooperate and co-populate with the invading Huns. 

The leader of the Huns thought Ursula was fierce, beautiful, and would make a great wife. Unfortunately, this went against the saint’s belief, and they chose death rather than bondage. It is said that Ursula and her Virgins sang and cheered as they were being led to their execution.

Remembering Saint Ursula in the United Kingdom

St. Ursula's shrine - The Proud Italian

Apart from the monuments and street names, Saint Ursula is honored in a variety of ways in the united kingdom.

Saint Ursula’s feast

Even though it’s not an official holiday in the Roman Catholic Calendar, the feast of Saint Ursula takes place annually on the 21st of October. It’s a worldwide celebration that commemorates the bravery of Saint Ursula and her 11,000 virgins.

London streets and churches

London has its own supposed memorial of the patron saint. A street named Saint Mary Axe Street is rumored to be named after the Virgin Mary and Saint Ursula and her 11,000 virgins. The “Gherkin” is an old church that was also said to be home to the very ax that put an end to the lives of many of the maidens in Ursula’s camp. This was a 16th-century sixteenth rumor though.

All about the Ursulines

Ursuline Church - The Proud Italian

Founded in Brescia, Italy, in 1535 by St. Angela Marcici, the Ursulines were the first order devoted exclusively to the education of young girls and women. 

The order was consecrated by Saint Angela Marcici and 28 of her companions when they swore a vow of virginity to God. Saint Angela was elected superior leader of the company in 1537.

They used the philosophy of Saint Ursula as a guide to their crusade for female empowerment and spreading their message of Christian values and ethics. Their beliefs were deeply rooted in the concept of family and ensuring that family thrives, which in turn reflects on society.

In a time where women were limited to marriage and wifely duties, it was rare to find a group of women like the Ursulines. Their meetings themselves were seen as unusual acts in their society. 

St. Ursula’s Academy

Saint Ursula’s Academy is an American Roman-Catholic girls-only school dedicated to teaching Ursuline philosophy.

Cloister of the convent of the Ursulines - The Proud Italian

The school was built in 1910 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Surprisingly the mansion that was built before the school was already an institution of learning in the 1800s. 

With over a century under their name, the Saint Ursula Academy prides itself in producing top top-tier students that are prepared for tertiary and life within society. They not only offer subjects such as science, art, and commerce but also take pride in their sports where their inner warrior spirits shine.

Summary 

Whether Saint Ursulas’ stories are fact or fiction, there is no denying her unwavering influence on not just Great Britain but the world. 

Her devotion to God is something that is rarely seen in our era, and her dedication to the empowerment of women echoes volumes to this day. Saint Ursula went from betrothed princess to medieval legend. 

Her story might be told in multiple variations but the message is always the same. With streets and schools named after her, it’s safe to say that Saint Ursula and 11 or 11,000 virgins made their mark on history and their great sacrifice was not in vain.