ST URSULA AND COMPANIONS
“Love is strong as death;
the flash of it is a flash of fire,
a flame of the Lord himself:
Love no flood can quench,
no torrent drown."A
Song of Songs 8:6-7
St Ursula, virgin and martyr, is a saint of the 3rd or 4th century;
She was accompanied by some virgin companions who were also martyred;
She has been venerated by the whole of Christendom for many centuries;
Some of the elements of Ursula's story may be legend, but her existence and sanctity are proven;
Her colourful story provided the basis for some of the most beautiful works of art in medieval and
Her relics are venerated in the ancient European city of Cologne - home to World Youth Day in 2005.
The "inscription of Clematius," which can be seen in the choir of the Church of St Ursula in Cologne, the city of her
martyrdom, tells how Clematius, rebuilt a basilica on land which he owned, dedicated to certain Christian virgins,
pilgrims from a foreign country, who had been martyred on that spot. Various liturgical books speak of "the Virgin Martyrs
of Cologne," who even then were venerated on October 21. These texts give some names, i.e. Ursula, Sencia, Martha,
Britula, Palladia and others. The number of the martyrs varies from five to eleven.
Das Martyrium der hl. Ursula und ihrer Gesellschaft
vor der Stadt Koln (um 1411)
Around these facts a popular legend grew. According to this account,
Ursula was a beautiful and virtuous princess, the daughter of
Dionotus, the King of Cornwall. By order of the Emperor Maximilian,
she and many young women were betrothed to some of his subjects
in Armorica. Ursula had already consecrated her life to Christ and
desired to remain a virgin, so she insisted on many difficult
conditions being fulfilled before marriage. She demanded three
years grace to go and visit the various shrines of Christendom, on
pilgrimage. She demanded that she and her ten bridesmaids be
accompanied by a further thousand companions. They visited Rome
and were met there by Pope St Cyriacus, but on their return journey
they were carried ashore by a violent storm, and landed at Cologne.
There they encountered a party of Huns who wanted to take them
as wives, but they refused. Filled with hatred for these Christians,
the Huns killed them by shooting them with arrows. Ursula was the
last to die and encouraged the others to remain true to their faith.
All their bodies were heaped into a mass grave, where later the
basilica, which Clematius rebuilt, was erected in their honour.
How much of the legend is true, we will never know. We do know,
however, that Ursula was a fearless disciple of Christ, who gave up
her life for her faith in him. As such, she is a worthy patron for Cologne and for the World Youth Day of 2005, and the many young people
from around the world visiting the city of her death, to celebrate that same Catholic faith for which
St Ursula gave up her life.
When St Angela founded her "Company of St Ursula" in 1535, she chose Ursula as their patron saint, in this way placing before the first
Sisters a model and a challenge of unstinting and faithful service of God and his people. And so "the Ursulines" set out on their long
pilgrimage of love through history. Over the centuries they brought this young woman as inspiration to thousands upon thousands of
Ursuline students and collaborators throughout the world.
You had the courage and leadership
To gather others to yourself
And unite them in love and discipleship
Of Jesus our Lord and Saviour.
May we be witnesses of prayer and devotion to Christ;
of Christian service and unity in discipleship.
When we encounter resentment and ill will,
May we meet it with courage and unswerving faith.
Together may we honour and serve
the Christ for whom you died
and for whom we live.
Intercede for us
to this Jesus whom we all love.
The above are the words of Dina Cormick, who was commissioned to execute the wood sculpture for the centenary of the arrival of the
Ursulines in South Africa. Rather than represent Ursula as a martyr, she chose to create a figure who represents a compelling image of life
for our journey. She was inspired by the words of a young Amerindian describing
"In seeking one's vision, one should go out and pray:
'What shall be my purpose in life Great Spirit?
How can I best serve my people?
What is my part in the universe?'"
The brass plaque beneath the sculpture reads:
COMMISSIONED IN 1995
BY THE URSULINE SISTERS OF SOUTHERN AFRICA
TO COMMEMORATE THE ARRIVAL OF THE FIRST URSULINES
AT BARBERTON, SOUTH AFRICA, ON 31 DECEMBER 1885