(Latin for ‘little female bear’)
Legend has it, that Saint Ursula was a princess who, at the request of her father King Dionotus of Dumnonia in south-west Britain, set sail to join her future husband, the pagan governor Conan Meriadoc of Armorica, along with 11,000 virginal handmaidens.
After a miraculous storm brought them over the sea in a single day to a Gaulish port, Ursula declared that before her marriage she would undertake a pan-European pilgrimage. She headed for Rome with her followers and persuaded the Pope, Cyriacus (unknown in the pontifical records, though from late 384 there was a Pope Siricius), and Sulpicius, bishop of Ravenna, to join them. After setting out for Cologne, which was being besieged by Huns, all the virgins were beheaded in a massacre. The Huns’ leader shot Ursula dead, in about 383 (the date varies).The legend of Ursula is based on a 4th- or 5th-century inscription from the Church of St. Ursula (on the Ursulaplatz) in Cologne.
The Catholic Encyclopedia states that “this legend, with its countless variants and increasingly fabulous developments, would fill more than a hundred pages.
It has also been theorised that Ursula is a Christianized form of the goddess Freya, who welcomed the souls of dead maidens.
The Basilica church of St. Ursula (German pronunciation: [ˌzaŋt ˈʔuʁˌzula], Colognian (Kölsch) pronunciation: [ˌtsɪnt ˈʔoʒəɫa]) is located as mentioned above in Cologne the Rhineland, Germany.
The church has an impressive reliquary created from the bones of the former occupants of the cemetery. It is one of the twelve Romanesque churches of Cologne and was designated a Minor Basilica on 25 June 1920. While the nave and crossing tower are Romanesque, the choir has been rebuilt in the Gothic style.
The Golden Chamber, or Goldene Kammer, of the church contains the alleged remains of St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgins who are said to have been killed by the Huns, possibly around the time of the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains. The original legend said only 11 virgins accompanied St. Ursula but the number grew over time, eventually to 11,000. The walls of the Golden Chamber are covered in bones arranged in designs and/or letters along with relic skulls. The exact number of people whose remains are in the Golden Chamber remains ambiguous but the number of skulls in the reliquary is greater than 11 and less than 11,000. These remains were found in 1155 in a mass grave and were assumed to be those of the legend of St. Ursula and the 11,000 virgins. The peculiarities of the relics themselves have thrown doubt upon the historicity of Ursula and her 11,000 maidens. When skeletons of little children, ranging in age from two months to seven years, were found buried with one of the sacred virgins in 1183,
Therefore, the church constructed the Golden Chamber to house the bones. The bones themselves are neatly arranged in “zigzags and swirls and even in the shapes of Latin words.”
Llangwyryfon, near Aberystwyth in west Wales, has a church dedicated to her. The village name translates as “Church of the virgins”. She is believed to have originated from this area.
The street in London called St Mary Axe is sometimes said to be derived from a church, now demolished, dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, St Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins. It was said to be located where the skyscraper informally known as The Gherkin is now located. The church contained a holy relic: an axe used by the Huns to execute the virgins. However, this legend cannot be dated any earlier than 1514. St. Mary Axe was a medieval parish in the City of London. The Church of St Mary Axe was demolished in 1561 and its parish united with that of St Andrew Undershaft, which is situated on the corner of St. Mary Axe and Leadenhall Street. The site of the former church is now occupied by Fitzwilliam House, a fact acknowledged by a blue plaque on the building’s façade. Nearby parishes include the medieval Great St. Helen’s (1210) and St. Ethelburga (1300s).
The term Ursulines refers To a number of religious institutes of the Catholic Church. The best known group was founded in 1535 at Brescia, Italy, by St. Angela Merici (ca. 1474–1540), for the education of girls and the care of the sick and needy. Their patron saint is Saint Ursula. They are divided into two branches, the monastic Order of St. Ursula (post-nominals O.S.U.), among whom the largest organisation are the Ursulines of the Roman Union, described in this article. The other branch is the Company of St. Ursula, who follow the original form of life established by their foundress. They are commonly called the Angelines.