Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saints Ursula and Her Companions, Virgins and Martyrs

stained glass window of Saint Urusla, date and artist unknown; Saint Joseph's Cathedral, Macon, Georgia; photographed by the author, summer 2003Article

Middle of the Fifth Age

When the pagan Saxons laid waste our island from sea to sea, many of its old British inhabitants fled into Gaul, and settled in Armorica, since called, from them, Little Britain. Others took shelter in the Netherlands, and had a settlement near the mouth of the Rhine, at a castle called Brittenburgh, as appears from ancient monuments and Belgic historians produced by Usher. These holy martyrs seem to have left Britain about that time, and to have met a glorious death in defence of their virginity from the army of the Huns, which in the fifth age plundered that country, and carried fire and the sword wherever they came. It is agreed that they came originally from Britain, and Ursula was the conductor and encourager of this holy troop. Though their leaders were certainly virgins, it is not improbable that some of this company had been engaged in a married state. Sigebert’s Chronicle places their martyrdom in 453. It happened near the Lower Rhine, and they were buried at Cologne, where, according to the custom of those early ages, a great church was built over their tombs, which was very famous in 643, when Saint Cunibert was chosen archbishop in it. Saint Anno, who was bishop of Cologne in the eleventh age, out of devotion to these holy martyrs, was wont to watch whole nights in this church in prayer at their tombs, which have been illustrated by many miracles. These martyrs have been honoured by the faithful for many ages, with extraordinary devotion in this part of Christendom. Saint Ursula, who was the mistress and guide to heaven to so many holy maidens, whom she animated to the heroic practice of virtue, conducted to the glorious crown of martyrdom, and presented spotless to Christ, is regarded as a model and patroness by those who undertake to train up youth in the sentiments and practice of piety and religion. She is patroness of the famous college of Sarbonne, and titular saint of that church. Several religious establishments have been erected under her name and patronage for the virtuous education of young ladies. The Ursulines were instituted in Italy for this great and important end, by Blessed Angela of Brescia, in 1537, approved by Paul III in 1544, and obliged to inclosure and declared a religious Order under the rule of Saint Austin, by Gregory XIII, in 1572, at the solicitation of Saint Charles Borromeo, who exceedingly promoted this holy institute. The first monastery of this Order in France was founded at Paris, in 1611, by Madame Magdalen l’Huillier, by marriage, de Sainte-Beuve. Before this, the pious mother, Anne de Xaintonge of Dijon, had instituted in Franche-Compte, in 1606, a religious congregation of Ursulines for the like purpose, which is settled in many parts of France, in which strict inclosure is not commanded.

Nothing, whether in a civil or religious view, is more important in the republic of mankind than a proper and religious education of youth, nor do any establishments deserve equal attention and encouragement among men with those which are religiously and wisely calculated for this great end. Yet, alas! is anything in the world more neglected either by parents at home, or by the wrong methods which are too frequently pursued in the very nurseries which are founded for training up youth? A detail would be too long for this place. There is certainly no duty which requires more virtue, prudence, and experience, or which parents, tutors, masters, mistresses, and others are bound more diligently to study in its numberless branches. But it is the height of our misfortune, that there is scarcely a person in the world, howsoever unqualified, who does not think it an easy task, and look upon himself as equal to it; who is not ready to undertake it without reflection; and who consequently is not supinely careless both in studying and discharging its obligations; though no employment more essentially requires an extensive knowledge of all duties, of human nature, and its necessary accomplishments; the utmost application, attention, and patience; the most consummate prudence and virtue, and an extraordinary succour of divine light and grace.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saints Ursula and Her Companions, Virgins and Martyrs”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. CatholicSaints.Info. 5 October 2015. Web. 26 January 2022. <>