Ursula (fl. 3rd or 5th c.)

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Ursula (fl. 3rd or 5th c.)

British princess, saint, and martyr. Birth date unknown; died in either 238, 283, or 451; daughter of a British prince.

A British princess, Saint Ursula is especially honored in Cologne, the place of her Christian martyrdom. One legend has it that while leading a group of virgins on a pilgrimage to Rome, she and her charges were massacred by the Huns at Cologne. Another version claims that she was fleeing Great Britain and the atrocities of the invading Saxons. The numbered dead is also in extremely wide dispute. Some sources assign the total of young girls martyred at 11,000, while others claim as few as 5. Omer Englebert, in his Lives of the Saints, suggest that 11 is more probable, and he offers the names Ursula, Pinnosa, Martha, Saula, Brittica, Gregoria, Saturnina, Sabatia, Palladia, Sentia , and Saturia . Early in the 12th century, the citizens of Cologne, while digging foundations across the cemetery of the old Roman settlement of Colonia Agrippina, found a number of bones. These were declared by the nun Elizabeth of Schönau to be the relics of the virgins.

This 12th-century tale is found in the Chronicle of Sigebert of Gemblours and in the Bollandist Acta Sanctorum, and was popularized by Geoffrey of Monmouth. St. Catherine of Bologna (1413–1463), a monastic woman artist, painted Ursula with an arrow in one hand while her cape protectively envelops some young girls. The feast day of Ursula, the patron saint of maidens, is celebrated on October 21.