Monday, January 30, 2023

Something About Saint Ursula

Friends went up to eleven.

Johnny Dixon finds a representation of Saint Ursula carved into the altarpiece of Saint Michael's Church (The Curse of the Blue Figurine, 28).

Ursula - whose name is Latin for "little female bear" - is the patron saint of the Ursuline Order of nuns, who founded schools for the education of girls and women throughout Europe, and of Catholic education, of students and teachers [1].

One may remember a mathematics teacher explaining the importance of decimal points and how, if misplaced, one might wind up with a number smaller or larger than intended. The decimal point doesn't fit into the 4th Century story of Saint Ursula, but the exact number of her traveling companions makes her story memorable. Legends say it's between 11 and 11,000, attributed to a misunderstanding or mistranslation.
Ben Johnson at Historic UK explains these companions:
...Ursula was of Romano-British descent and...betrothed to a man of high rank and was travelling to be united with her intended. Unfortunately Ursula and her travel companions...found themselves in the city of Cologne in Germany, where they were cruelly massacred for refusing to copulate with or marry the invading Huns, a nomadic race from Central Asia who conquered much of Europe in the fourth century.
Johnson says some historians have argued that Ursula was completing a holy pilgrimage through Europe to Rome before her marriage:
"It has also been said that the ships on which the women were travelling were caught in a storm and shipwrecked far from their intended destination. The survivors were subsequently taken prisoner and savagely beheaded, whilst Ursula their leader was said to have been shot by an arrow by the leader of the Huns."
Regardless of the number of companions, I'm glad Johnny didn't see them all carved into the altar screen.

This reminds me: Columbus named the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean in Ursula's honor [1]. Granted, there are only about 90 islands, so some of those companions would have to share an island with several others.


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