Saint of the Day – 21 October – Saint Ursula and Companions: (Died c 238) Virgin Martyrs. Died on 21 October 238 in Cologne, Germany. Patronages – British Virgin Islands, Catholic education (especially of girls), Cologne, Germany, of a holy death, students, school children, teachers, University of Paris.
St Ursula and Her Companions, Virgin Martyrs
By Father Francis Xavier Weninger SJ (1805-1888)
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, therefor,e 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 Cardinal Cesare Baronius (1538-1607), the Historian and partly from the Roman Breviary.
The Roman General, Maximus, surnamed Flavius Magnus Clemens, who commanded the Imperial armies in 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 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 neighbourhood 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 defenceless 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.
St Ursula encouraged and exhorted her companions to preserve their purity and to give up lif, rather than lose it. Heed it well, the Saint’s advice and exhort others to preserve purity.
Who, therefore, are those that tempt others to violate it? St Bonaventure says: “The mouth of him who tempts others to impurity, is the mouth of a devil!” Hence, those who tempt to impurity are incarnate devils or the devil speaks through their mouths. How senseless are you, therefore, when you listen to them and follow their advice. St Ursula and her Companions did not listen to the savage Huns and followed them not. Thus must you act and neither listen to them, nor obey them who would tempt you to the least sin against purity. “Shun and abhor,” says St Nilus, “all those who would prevent you from the practice of virtue and who tempt you to violate the laws of God and to sin against purity.” Detest them as you would the Evil One himself; for, in truth, “There is no difference between an evil spirit and a human being tempting you to impurity,” says St Cyril of Alexandria.