St. Ursula and Her Companions, Virgins
To-day we commemorate the festival of St. Ursula and her companions. Although her life and martyrdom are variously described by different historians, we cannot therefore conclude with some heretical writers, that she never existed, and that all that has been told of her are fables; for, although historians differ in some points, yet all unanimously declare that St. Ursula and her companions sacrificed their lives for their faith, and in defence of their virginity. The short sketch we give of this Saint is partly taken from the works of the celebrated Baronius, and partly from the Roman Breviary.
The Roman General, Maximus, surnamed Flavius Magnus Clemens, who commanded the Imperial armies in Great Britain, caused himself, in 383, to be proclaimed Emperor by his soldiers, while the lawful Emperor Gratian was still alive. After this, he crossed the sea, landed on the shores of France, took possession of a large portion of it, drove the inhabitants away, and occupied the land with his soldiers, among whom he divided the conquered towns and villages. Conanus, a tributary king in Great Britain, who commanded one part of the army of this new Emperor, advised him to bring from England virgins, who might be given in marriage to the new inhabitants of the conquered land, in order to keep them in obedience and fidelity to their master. Maximus, pleased with this advice, sent an embassy to Great Britain, and stating his reasons, demanded a great number of maidens. The Britons hesitated not to consent to the new Emperor’s demand, because many of his soldiers were Britons and because Maximus had given them considerable property. They, therefore, assembled the desired number of virgins, placed them in several boats, and sent them to France. The noblest among them was Ursula, daughter of the king of Wales, who was to become the spouse of Conanus.
The wisdom of the Almighty, however, had decreed otherwise; for, whilst the ships sailed from England to France, contrary winds arose, which drove them all to the shores of Germany. It is believed that they went up the Rhine, and landed in the neighborhood of Cologne. At that period, the wild Huns happened to be there, whom the Emperor Gratian had called to his aid against Maximus, who resided for some time at Treves. When these heathens beheld this large number of virgins, they forced them to land and would have sacrificed them to their lust. Ursula, however, the Christian heroine, exhorted all, rather to suffer the most bitter death than consent to evil. All followed her admonition, and courageously resisted the savages, who, in their furious rage, killed the defenceless virgins with swords, arrows and clubs. Only one of the maidens, Cordula, had escaped and concealed herself during the massacre; but repenting of her timidity, she revealed herself on the following day, and last of all, she received the crown of martyrdom. The bodies of the holy virgins were buried, with great solemnities, by the inhabitants of Cologne. Their memory, however, and the veneration with which they were regarded, were not confined within the walls of this town, but spread over the whole Christian world.
I. Did you notice how fearless Hilarion showed himself when the Evil Spirits visibly appeared to him, and assailed him with violent temptations? Follow his example, and become not despondent under temptations, but resist bravely and fearlessly. Satan cannot do violence to you. Notice also the answer of the devil when he was asked why he had not gone into the body of the unchaste youth. Learn from it that the devil lives in the body of the unchaste, as Christ has His dwelling in the body of the chaste. Who lives in your soul and in your body? Remember, also, how St. Hilarion encouraged himself in his last hour, when he was troubled with fear at the thought of appearing before the Almighty. Those who can say, at the end of their life, that they have faithfully served God, will neither tremble nor be afraid, or they will, like St. Hilarion, soon recover from their fear. But how will it be with those who cannot say that they have faithfully served God, but only that they have often and most grievously offended Him, and are not reconciled to Him by true penance? Will you be able to exclaim, on your death-bed, with St. Hilarion: “Go forth, my soul, go forth. Fear not; thou hast served the Lord, thy God, so many years; fear not.” Indeed, fear not, provided you have served the Lord in virtue and piety; but if, instead, you have served the devil by vice and sin, how then will you speak in your last hour? Oh! be on your guard that you may not experience it to your own eternal loss.
II. St. Ursula encouraged and exhorted her companions to preserve their purity, and to give up life rather than lose it. Heed it well: the Saints advise and exhort others to preserve purity. Who, therefore, are those that tempt others to violate it? St. Bonaventure says: “The mouth of him who tempts others to impurity, is the mouth of a devil!” Hence, those who tempt to impurity are incarnate devils, or the devil speaks through their mouths. How senseless are you, therefore, when you listen to them and follow their advice. St. Ursula and her companions did not listen to the savage Huns and followed them not. Thus must you act, and neither listen to them nor obey them who would tempt you to the least sin against purity. “Shun and abhor,” says St. Nilus, “all those who would prevent you from the practice of virtue, and who tempt you to violate the laws of God and to sin against purity.” Detest them as you would the Evil One himself; for, in truth, “There is no difference between an evil spirit and a human being tempting you to impurity,” says St. Cyril of Alexandria.
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.