St Ursula

Who I hear you ask?  Well maybe you don’t ask, but I certainly did when I saw this window of her in Lincoln Cathedral.

St UrsulaIt was the arrow that first grabbed my attention, I tend to scan pictures for glyphs they then point me towards who is being depicted, the arrow threw me I had no idea who this was. While I was grateful for the name some Victorian had included in the window, it didn’t really help for I still had no idea who this was standing tall and proud other than a name Urusla.  Who was she and what had she done?

Back home I did some research, this is St Ursual of St Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins fame, none the wiser?  No, neither was I.  So I read on, she is supposed to be an English princess alive anywhere between 238 and 640 who along with her 11,000 virgins was killed by The Huns whilst on a pilgrimage with the pope before she got married.  There does not appear to be any reliable source to back up the story which is probably has something to do with her not instantly springing to mind.

However in the past she was certainly more widely known.  On 21st October 1520 Magellan reached the southern most tip of Argentina and found what we know as the Strait of Magellan he also named the tip Cape Virgenes after Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins, because it was their saints day.  While Christopher Columbus in 1493 named the Virgin islands after Urusula and co.  Indeed the flag of the British Virgin Islands which was adopted as recently ago as 1960 have a depiction of Ursula on it.  In the coat of arms of the BVI she is holding a roman style lamp with 11 other lamps around her one for each 1,000 of her virgin handmaidens.  (I always assumed that like Virginia in the States they were named after Elizabeth I, Urusla is certainly teaching me a thing of two!)  While she might cause blank faces and highlight a degree of ignorance in the 21st century she didn’t in the 15th and 16th.

What I am left mostly pondering however is why anyone, even a princess, would need 11,000 virgin handmaidens to accompany them on a pilgrimage!

ps – The arrow, the glyph that both drew me and threw me initially; well it would appear that the glyph of an arrow is a sign that someone has been tortured.  I am astounded I have never knowingly come across it before.


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