St Ursula’s Day: October 21
St. Ursula´s Day is a public holiday in the British Virgin Islands.
St. Ursula’s Day commemorates the Roman Catholic Saint after whom Columbus named the whole archipelago of islands. Columbus gave them the fanciful name Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Vírgenes (Saint Ursula and her 11,000 Virgins), shortened to Las Vírgenes (The Virgins). The figure on the Territory’s crest is also supposed to represent St. Ursula and the lamps the Virgins. Ursula is Latin and means little female bear.
History of St. Ursula´s Day
Not much is known about the history of St Ursula and her 11.000 virgins, except for what was told by Helentrude, a nun of Heerse near Paderborn in Germany. According to legend, Ursula was a beautiful British princess, daughter of a Christian king, Dionotus of Cornwall. Ursula had taken a vow of chastity, but against her will she was promised in marriage to Conan Meriadoc of Brittany, a pagan prince.
Ursula was warned in a dream by an angel to demand the conversion of the prince to Christianity and three years to gather 11.000 for her future kingdom. When she was sent to her husband to be, Ursula was accompanied by 11.000 virginal handmaidens. However, a miraculous storm brought them over the sea in a single day to a Gaulish port, where Ursula declared that before her marriage she would undertake an European pilgrimage. She headed for Rome, with her followers, and persuaded the Pope, Cyriacus, and Sulpicius, Bishop of Ravenna, to join them. On their return, Cologne, Germany, was being sacked by the Huns, who after Ursula refused some advances of their prince, beheaded all 11.001 of them, supposedly in 383 (the date varies). One of the 11,000, St Cordula, escaped death on the first day by hiding, wrote down the tale for posterity, then gave herself up to join her sisters in martyrdom.
St. Ursula’s Day Traditions, Customs and Activities
Considering that there is no work on this day and that the Virgin Islands are surrounded by clear water seas, it is hard to believe that most of islanders would celebrate this holiday away from the beach. The Royal British Virgin Islands Yacht Club annually organizes a St Ursula’s day race. There are different religious celebrations organized all over the 60 islands, who are predominantly Protestant Christian. There are some political movements that want to change the day from the remembrance of the naming of the archipelago by a holiday to recognize fishermen, sailors and boat builders, in appreciation of the Islands marine heritage.