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St. Ursula and her companions

St. Ursula and her companions, from the Reliquary of St. Ursula Hans Memling, 1489

In eighth century Francia, the setting for my novels The Cross and the Dragon and The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, believers would have known virgins were martyred in Cologne for their faith.

After that, what version the Franks would have heard is unclear. One ninth century martyrology has several women; another has several thousand. It isn’t until the 11th century that a fuller version of the story of the British-born Saint Ursula emerges, with a lot of fantastic elements: 11,000 virgins, a pope who abdicates, an army of martyrs. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia has used the term “fables” to describe the events.

Regardless of what particular details of Ursula’s story are true, a courageous group of women faced death rather than betray their faith, and their story has inspired generations. Visit English Historical Fiction Authors for more about this fascinating saint.

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