Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Her legend, probably ahistorical, is that she was a British princess who, at the request of her father King Donaut , set sail to join her future husband, the pagan Governor Conan Meriadoc of Armorica (Brittany), along with 11,000 virginal handmaidens. However, a miraculous storm brought them over the sea in a single day to a Gaulish port, where Ursula declared that before her marriage she would undertake a pan-European pilgrimage. She headed for Rome, with her followers, and persuaded the Pope, Cyriacus (unknown in the pontifical records), and Bishop of Ravenna, Sulpicius, to join them. After setting out for Cologne, which was being besieged by Huns, all the virgins were beheaded in a dreadful massacre. The Huns' leader shot Ursula dead, supposedly in 383.
Ursula and her fellow virgins were buried in Cologne where the Church of St. Ursula is dedicated to her. The Order of Ursulines, founded in 1535 by Angela Merici, and especially devoted to the education of young girls, has also helped to spread throughout the world the name and the cult of St. Ursula.
While there was a tradition of virgin martyrs in Cologne by the 5th century, this was limited to a small number between two and eleven according to different sources. The 11,000 were first mentioned in the 9th century; suggestions as to where this came from have included reading the name "Undecimillia" or "Ximillia" as a number, or reading the abbreviation "XI. M. V." as eleven thousand (in Roman numbers) virgins rather than eleven martyred virgins.
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