The Legend of St. Ursula and the 11,000 virgins

The Golden Legend version: Jacobus de Voragine,

In Britain was a Christian king named Notus or Maurus, who had a daughter named Ursula. This daughter was celebrated far and wide for her honesty, wisdom, and beauty. The king of Anglia, who then was a powerful ruler who had conquered many nations, heard of her fame, and said that he would be happy if this virgin would be married to his son, and the young man had a great desire and will to have her.
     There was a solemn embassy to the father of Ursula, and great promises were made, and many fair words were said. There were also many threats made of  the consequences if they returned to their lord without agreement. The king of Britain became anxious. His daughter was baptised in the faith of Jesus Christ, and he knew that she would not consent to be married to one who adored idols He also feared the cruelty of the Anglian king.
   For her fatherís sake Ursula consented to the marriage, but only on certain conditions. Firstly, the Anglian king should send her father ten virgins for herself, and for those ten, and for herself, he should send a thousand virgins. Secondly, he should allow her three years to dedicate her virginity. During this time the young man should be baptized, and be instructed in the faith. Ursula thought that these conditions would ensure that the Kingís son would withdraw from the betrothal. But the young prince received these conditions gladly, and was baptized, and commanded all that Ursula had required should be done. And the father of the Virgin commanded that good men should join their company to serve them.

Then virgins came from all parts, and men came to see this great company, and many bishops came to join them in their pilgrimage. Among them was Pantulus, bishop of Basle, who went with them to Rome, and returned from there with them and received martyrdom. Also in the pilgrimage were Gerasine, queen of Sicily, who had changed her cruel tyrant of a husband into a meek lamb. She was sister of Maurice the bishop, and of Daria, mother of Ursula. Ursulaís father had kept her informed by secret letters. She, inspired by God, took with her her four daughters, Babilla, Juliana, Victoria and Aurea, and her little son Adrian, which, for love of his sisters, went on the same pilgrimage. All came into Britain.

     By the counsel of this queen the virgins were gathered together from many realms, and she was leader of them, and suffered martyrdom with them.

    At last, when Ursula had converted all these virgins unto the faith of Christ, they all went to the sea. Having a good wind  they sailed over the sea in the space of a day, arriving at a port of Gaul, named Tielle. From there they came to Cologne, where an angel of our Lord appeared to Ursula, and told her that they should all return again to that place, and there receive the crown of martyrdom. From there, by the instruction of the angel, they set out towards Rome.
    When they came to Basle they left their ships and went to Rome on foot. The Pope Ciriacus was glad at their coming, because he was born in Britain and had many cousins among them. He and his clerks received them with all honour. That same night it was revealed to the Pope that he should receive with them the crown of martyrdom; this news he kept to himself, and he baptized many of them that were not then baptized. And when the time came, when he had governed the church for one year and eleven weeks, he revealed his purpose and resigned his office. The clergy could not accept what he had done, and removed his name from the catalogue of the Popes.

   Then two wicked princes of the chivalry of Rome, Maximus and Africanus, saw this great company of virgins, and the many men and women assembled with them. They concluded that the Christian religion would much be increased by them, and so they found out the details of their journey. They then sent messengers to Julian, their cousin, prince of the lineage of the Huns, to tell him that he should gather his army, assemble at Cologne, and there behead them because they were Christian.

   The blessed Ciriacus issued out of the city of Rome with the company of virgins. With them was Vincent, priest cardinal, and Jacobus that had travelled from Britain to Antioch, and had been bishop there for seven years. He suffered martyrdom with them. And so did Maurice, bishop of Levicana, uncle of Babilla and Juliana, and Follarius, bishop of Lucca, with Sulpitius, bishop of Ravenna, who were then in Rome, and who joined the company of these virgins.

   Ethereus, the betrothed husband of Ursula, waiting in Britain, was warned by a vision of an angel that he should exhort his mother to become Christian. His father had died the first year that he was christened, and Ethereus, his son, succeeded him.
     When these holy virgins returned from Rome with the bishops, Ethereus was warned by our Lord that he should go to meet Ursula at Cologne, and there receive with her the crown of martyrdom. He obeyed this divine command; he baptized his mother and went with her and with his little sister Florence, then also baptized, and the bishop Clement, to meet the holy virgins, and accompany them into martyrdom.

   All these virgins came with the bishops to Cologne, and found that it was besieged by the Huns. When the Huns saw them they began to run upon them with a great cry, and slaughtered all the great multitude like wolves on sheep. And when they were all beheaded, they came to the blessed Ursula. The prince of the Huns, seeing her marvellous beauty, was abashed, and began to comfort her upon the death of the virgins, and promised to her to take her to his wife. When she had refused him and despised him, he shot at her an arrow, and pierced her through the body, and so accomplished her martyrdom.

    One of the virgins, which was named Cordula, was frightened, and hid all that night in a ship, but in the morning she suffered death by her free will, and took the crown of martyrdom. Because her feast was not held with the other virgins, she appeared long after to a recluse, and commanded that her feast should be remembered on the day following the feast of the virgins. They suffered death the year of our Lord two hundred and thirty-eight. But some do not accept this date, for Sicily and Constantinople were not realms at that time. It is supposed that they suffered death a long time after Constantine was emperor, when the Huns and Goths fought against Christian men in the time of the emperor Marcian, that reigned in four hundred and fifty-two. It is to be remembered that among these eleven thousand virgins were many men, for the pope Cyriacus and other bishops, and Ethereus king, with other lords and knights, had many servants. I have been informed in Cologne that there were fifteen thousand men that suffered martyrdom along with the virgins. So the number of this holy multitude was twenty-six thousand, to whom let us pray to our Lord that he have mercy on us.

  A certain abbot requested a body of one of these virgins from the abbess of the place where these holy virgins rest in Cologne, and promised that he would set it in his church in a shrine of silver. But when he had it, he kept it a year upon the altar in a chest of tree. And in a night as the abbot sang matins, the virgin descended from the altar bodily, and bowed before the altar, and went through the choir. seeing The monks were abashed, and the abbot ran and found the chest was empty. Then the abbot went to Cologne and told to the abbess what has happened. They went they to the place from where they had taken the body, and found it had returned there. The abbot begged pardon, and prayed the abbess that he might have the same body, or another, promising to make the promised shrine, but his request was refused.

There was a religious monk who had great devotion to these holy virgins. It happened that one day, when he was sick, he saw a fair and noble virgin appear to him. She asked him if he knew her. He was amazed by this vision, and said that he had no knowledge of her. She told him that she was one of the virgins to whom he had such great devotion, and that he should have a reward. If he would say eleven thousand paternosters for the love and honour of the virgins, they would come to his aid and comfort at the hour of his death. Then she vanished away. He carried out her request as soon as he was able, then called his abbot, and asked to be anointed. As soon as he had been anointed he cried out: Make room for the Holy virgins! When the abbot demanded to know what he meant, he told him of virginís promise. Then they all withdrew. When they returned, they found he had departed out of this world unto our Lord.
  Then let us devoutly give praise unto the blessed Trinity, and pray that by the merits of this great multitude of martyrs he will forgive and pardon us of our sins, that after this life we may come unto this holy company in heaven. Amen.


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