Feast Day : formerly October 21
Patronage: drapes; schoolgirls; young women
Ursula was one of the most popular saints in the Middle Ages. Ursula seems to have been associated with several martyred virgins; accounts of her story have been embellished. The basis for the legend is a true account of a senator, Clematius, who rebuilt a basilica in Cologne, dated to perhaps the fourth century, that honored a group of virgins who had been martyred there. The identities and circumstances of their martyrdom are not known. According to a 10th-century legend, Ursula was the daughter of a Christian king in Britain, who planned to marry her to a pagan prince. As she did not want this marriage, she asked for and was granted a three-year postponement. With 10 ladies in waiting, each attended by 1,000 maidens, Ursula embarked on a voyage across the North Sea, sailed up the Rhine to Basel, Switzerland, and then went to Rome. On their way back in about 451, they went to Cologne, where Ursula refused to marry the chieftain of the Huns. All the women were massacred. According to another even more embellished legend, Ursula and an army of women met their demise after a battle. Armorica was settled by British colonizers and soldiers after Emperor Magnus Clemens Maximus conquered Britain and Gaul in 383. The ruler of the settlers, Cynan Meiriadog, called on King Dionotus of Cornwall for wives for the settlers. Dionotus promised his daughter Ursula for Cynan, and sent her off by ship with 11,000 maidens and 60,000 common women. The fleet was wrecked and all the women were enslaved or murdered. Pope Benedict XIV (r. 1740–58) allegedly planned to remove Ursula from the Roman martyrology. Her cult was suppressed in 1969.