The Saints In Art - U
( Originally Published 1908 )
URSULA, ST. (Patroness of Girls and the Teachers of Girls). (21st October)
Was, according to legend, a British (or Bretonne) Princess of Christian parents, beautiful, virtuous, and of wondrous learning. She was sought in marriage for Conon, son of Agrippinus, the pagan King of England, by ambassadors to her father. But she made three conditions to the marriage : first, that she should be given as companions ten noble virgins, and that she and her virgins should each be accompanied by a thousand maidens ; second, that they should all together visit the shrines of the saints ; and third, that Prince Conon and his Court should be baptised. These conditions were complied with : the King of England collected eleven thousand virgins, and Ursula and her companions sailed for Cologne. Miraculously navigated by the virgins, they arrived, and Ursula then had a vision of her martyrdom. They proceeded by boats up the Rhine to Basle, whence they crossed the Alps on foot to Italy. At length they came to the Tiber, and hence to Rome. St. Cyriacus, the Pope, went out with all his clergy to meet them, blessed them, and had tents pitched for the whole company outside the walls, towards Tivoli. Meanwhile, Prince Conon had set out on a pilgrimage to Rome, and arrived there on the same day as the virgins. He and Ursula received the Pope's blessing together, and he was baptised, taking the name Ethereus. Cyriacus would have kept them longer in Rome, but Ursula said they must depart, so, accompanied by the Pope, his bishops and cardinals, the whole party set out. Now certain people in Rome conspired with the barbarian King of the Huns to attack the company of Christians on their way home. When, after a long and perilous journey, they arrived at Cologne, the pagans fell upon them, and Ethereus, Cyriacus, and all the virgins were killed. The great beauty of St. Ursula saved her in the slaughter, and she was carried before the King, who wished to marry her. But Ursula rejected him with scorn, and, in anger, he seized a bow and shot three arrows into her breast. So she, her maidens, and her betrothed, all ascended together to heaven.
She is represented crowned, with an arrow or arrows in her hand, and martyr's palm or standard of victory. When her maidens are with her she is very unmistakable.
Her life is illustrated by a series of paintings by Memling, in the Hospital of St John, at Bruges, and by Carpaccio,in the Accademia, Venice.