Several legends are circulated regarding the life, journeys, and death of St. Ursula and her companions.
Ursula was the daughter of a Christian British king. The stories of her life are based primarily on the inscriptions by Clamatius, an early senator, which were carved into a stone document that hangs in the church of St. Ursula in Cologne, Germany. There are also a few small details about her found in ancient liturgical documents. She became popular after her death and her veneration as a saint grew rapidly.
Legend has it that Ursula, born into nobility, was given 10 maidens as companions when she was a young girl. The 11 of them traveled on 11 ships, each accompanied by 1000 companions. They sailed for three years. Ursula had requested a three-year stay of marriage to the son of a pagan king because she wanted to preserve her virginity. At the end of their journey the 11,000 virgins went to Rome, then returned to Cologne; there they became martyrs, tortured and killed by the Huns for their faith.
A possible twist to this legend is the belief that the 11,000 number resulted from a misreading of the term "11M" in the stone inscription. This may have indicated 11 Martyrs -- Ursula and her original companions -- rather than the Roman numeral "M," which represents 1000. But ancient manuscripts do refer to the martyrdom of thousands of maidens, and exact history is unclear.
Devotion to the martyrs grew quickly. The Order of Ursulines, founded in 1535 by St. Angela de Merici, took St. Ursula as their namesake. The Order is especially devoted to the education of Catholic girls.
St. Ursula is the patron saint of Catholic education, holy death, students and teachers.
St. Ursula and her companions have been represented in art several times throughout history. Her representation is usually as a maiden shot with arrows, often accompanied by a large number of companions who are suffering martyrdom in various ways.
St. Ursula and her companions bravely faced martyrdom in the face of the wrath of pagans. They defended the Faith, and died courageously.
We may not be required to offer our very blood for the Faith, but we all need courage as we face daily persecution when we stand up for the truths the Church teaches -- such as defense of human life and living a virtuous life.
May we turn to God in prayer, asking Him to be our Strength in our weakness.