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Title: Saint Ursula - Story of Ursula and Dream of Ursula
Author: Ruskin, John, 1819-1900
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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    [Illustration: "_Dream of St. Ursula_"


_By John Ruskin_




_New York_

Copyright, 1912, by


Fors Clavigera!--to the ignorant a stumbling-stone, to the Philistines
a laughing-stock, but to the Initiate a sweet remembrance of many a
happy hour passed in informal chat with the Master.

The real Ruskin enthusiast has read every word of Fors, and reckons it
not least among the precious treasures of the Master's pen. But it
remains a fact that to the vast majority of those who have heard of
Fors Clavigera, it is but an excellent example of Ruskin's eccentric
seeking after curious titles; and the beauties of these letters are as
effectually buried as if they had appeared in a country journal.

It is in the desire of rescuing one of the choicest bits in all Fors
that the present little booklet is offered to the clients of the
"Celestial Lily" as Mother Church names the noble Martyr, St. Ursula.
Though, of course, a life of this royal maiden has an interest for me
apart from its authorship by Ruskin.

As one dedicated to the cause for which the little Princess and her
"legions" lost their lives, as one tenderly devoted to her and as
privileged to be sheltered beneath her protecting mantle, I look upon
this story as one of the sweetest relics of the "Age of Faith." It
makes no difference to me, as it made none to John Ruskin (and thank
God there are many like him), what learned Bollandists and others tell
us of the legendary character of the Princess of Over-sea. The
essential thing, as Ruskin remarked, is that a great people chose so
to represent their highest aspirations. It will remain eternally
true, to use his words, that "we see the Saints better through a
nimbus of religious enthusiasm than a fog of contemptuous

To all who, like Ursula, love holy living and unselfish dedication to
a noble cause, greeting--





There was once a just and most Christian King of Britain, called
Maurus. To him and to his wife Daria was born a little girl, the
fairest creature that this earth ever saw. She came into the world
wrapped in a hairy mantle, and all men wondered greatly what this
might mean. Then the King gathered together his wise men to inquire of
them. But they could not make known the thing to him, for only God in
Heaven knew how the rough robe signified that she should follow
holiness and purity all her days, and the wisdom of St. John the
Baptist. And because of the mantle, they called her Ursula, 'Little

Now Ursula grew day by day in grace and loveliness, and in such wisdom
that all men marvelled. Yet should they not have marvelled, since
with God all things are possible. And when she was fifteen years old
she was a light of all wisdom, and a glass of all beauty, and a
fountain of Scripture and of sweet ways. Lovelier woman there was not
alive. Her speech was so full of all delight that it seemed as though
an angel of Paradise had taken human flesh. And in all the kingdom no
weighty thing was done without counsel of Ursula.

So her fame was carried through the earth, and a King of England, a
heathen of Over-sea, hearing, was taken with the love of her. And he
set all his heart on having her for wife to his son Æther, and for
daughter in his home. So he sent a mighty and honourable embassy, of
earls and marquesses, with goodly company of knights and ladies and
philosophers; bidding them, with all courtesy and discretion, pray
King Maurus to give Ursula in marriage to Æther.

"But," he said, "if Maurus will not hear your gentle words, open to
him all my heart, and tell him that I will ravage his land with fire,
and slay his people, and make himself die a cruel death, and will,
after, lead Ursula away with me. Give him but three days to answer,
for I am wasted with desire to finish the matter and hold Ursula in my

But when the ambassadors came to King Maurus, he would not have his
daughter wed a heathen; so, since prayers and gifts did not move him,
they spoke out all the threats. Now the land of Britain was little,
and its soldiers few, while the heathen was a mighty king and a
conqueror; so Maurus and his Queen and his councillors, and all the
people, were in sore distress.

But on the evening of the second day Ursula went into her chamber and
shut close the doors, and before the image of the Father, who is very
pitiful, prayed all night with tears, telling how she had vowed in
her heart to live a holy maiden all her days, having Christ alone for
spouse. But if His will were that she should wed the son of the
heathen King, she prayed that wisdom might be given her to turn the
hearts of all that people who knew not faith or holiness, and power to
comfort her father and mother, and all the people of her fatherland.

And when the clear light of dawn was in the air she fell asleep. And
the Angel of the Lord appeared to her in a dream, saying, "Ursula,
your prayer is heard. At the sun-rising you shall go boldly before the
ambassadors of the King of Over-sea, for the God of Heaven shall give
you wisdom, and teach your tongue what it should speak."

When it was day, Ursula rose to bless and glorify the name of God. She
put on for covering and for beauty an enwrought mantle like the starry
sky, and was crowned with a coronet of gems. Then, straightway passing
to her father's chamber, she told him what grace had been done to her
that night, and all that now was in her heart to answer to the
ambassadors of Over-sea. So, though long he would not, she persuaded
her father.

Then Maurus, and his lords and councillors, and the ambassadors of the
heathen King, were gathered in the Hall of Council. And when Ursula
entered the place where these lords were, one said to the other, "Who
is this that comes from Paradise?" For she moved in all noble
gentleness, with eyes inclined to earth, learned and frank and fair,
delightful above all women upon earth. Behind her came a hundred
maidens, clothed in white silk, fair and lovely. They shone brightly
as the stars, but Ursula shone as the moon and the evening star.

Now this was the answer Ursula made, which the King caused to be
written, and sealed with the royal seal, and gave to the ambassadors
of the King of the Over-sea.

"I will take," she said, "for spouse, Æther, the son of my lord, the
King of Over-sea. But I ask of my lord three graces, and with heart
and soul pray of him to grant them.

"The first grace I ask is this, that he and the Queen and their son,
my spouse, be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and
of the Holy Spirit.

"The second grace is that three years may be given me, before the
bridal, in which to go to and fro upon the sea, that I may visit the
bodies of the Saints in Rome, and the blessed places of the Holy Land.

"And for the last grace, I ask that he choose ten fair maidens of his
kingdom, and with each of these a thousand more, all of gentle blood,
who shall come to me here in Britain, and go with me in gladness upon
the sea, following this my holy pilgrimage."

Then spake one of the nobles of the land to Maurus, saying, "My lord
the King, this your daughter is the Dove of Peace come from Paradise,
the same that in the days of the flood brought to the Ark of Noah the
olive-branch of good news." And at the answer were the ambassadors so
full of joy that they well-nigh could not speak, and with praise and
triumph, they went their way, and told their master all the sweet
answer of Ursula.

Then my lord the King said, "Praised and blessed be the name of our
God Malcometto, who has given my soul for comfort that which it
desired. Truly there is not a franker lady under the wheel of the sun;
and by the body of my mother I swear there is nothing she can ask that
I will not freely give. First of the maidens she desires shall be my
daughter Florence." Then all his lords rose, man by man, and gladly
named each his child.

So the will of Ursula was done; and that King, and all his folk, were
baptized into the Holy Faith. And Æther, with the English maidens, in
number above ten thousand, came to the land of Britain.

Then Ursula chose her own four sisters, Habila and Julia and Victoria
and Aurea, and a thousand daughters of her people, with certain holy
bishops and great lords and grave councillors, and an abbot of the
order of St. Benedict, men full of all wisdom and friends of God.

So all that company set sail in eleven ships, and passing this way and
that upon the sea, rejoiced in it, and in this their maiden
pilgrimage. And those who dwelt by the shores of the sea came forth in
multitudes to gaze upon them as they passed, and to each man it
appeared a delightful vision. For the ships sailed in fair order, side
by side, with sound of sweet psalms and murmur of the waters. And the
maidens were clad, some in scarlet and some in pure samite, some in
rich silk of Damascus, some in cloth of gold, and some in the purple
robe that is woven in Judea. Some wore crowns, others garlands of
flowers. Upon the shoulder of each was the visible cross, in the hands
of each a pilgrim's staff by their sides were pilgrims' scrips, and
each ship's company sailed under the gonfalon of the Holy Cross.
Ursula in the midst was like a ray of sunlight, and the Angel of the
Lord was ever with them for guide.

So in the holy time of Lent they came to Rome. And when my Lord the
Pope came forth, under the Castle of St. Angelo, with great state, to
greet them, seeing their blessed assembly, he put off the mantle of
Peter, and with many bishops, priests, and brothers, and certain
cardinals, set himself to go with them on their blessed pilgrimage.

At length they came to the land of Slavonia, whose ruler was friend
and liegeman to the Soldan of Babylon. Then the Lord of the Saracens
sent straightway to the Soldan, telling what a mighty company had come
to his land, and how they were Christian folk. And the Soldan
gathered all his men of war, and with great rage the host of the
heathen made against the company of Ursula.

And when they were nigh, the Soldan cried and said, "What folk are
ye?" And Ursula spake in answer, "We are Christian folk; our feet are
turned to the blessed tomb of our Lord Jesus Christ, for the saving of
our souls, and that we may win grace to pass into eternal life, in the
blessed Paradise." And the Soldan answered, "Either deny your God, or
I will slay you all with the sword. So shall ye die a dolorous death,
and see your land no more." And Ursula answered, "Even so we desire to
be sure witnesses for the name of God, declaring and preaching the
glory of His name; because He has made heaven and earth and the sea by
His Word; and afterward all living things; and afterward has willed,
Himself, to die for our salvation and glory. And who follows Him
shall go to rejoice in His Fatherland and in His Kingdom."

Then she turned to her people: "My sisters and my brothers, in this
place God has given us great grace. Embrace and make it sure, for our
death in this place will be life perpetual, and joy and sweetness
never-ending. And there, above, we shall be with the Majesty and the
angels of Paradise." Then she called her spouse to comfort and teach
him. And he answered her with these words: "To me it appears three
thousand years that death is a-coming, so much have I already tasted
of the sweetness of Paradise."

Then the Soldan gave commandment that they should all be slain with
the sword. And so was it done.

Yet when he saw Ursula standing in the midst of all that slaughter,
like the fairest stalk of corn in harvest, and how she was exceeding
lovely, beyond the tongues of this earth to tell, he would have saved
her alive, and taken her for wife. But when she would not, and rebuked
him, he was moved with anger. Now there was a bow in his hand, and he
set an arrow on the string, and drew it with all his strength, and it
pierced the heart of the glorious maiden. So she went to God.

And one maiden only, whose name was Corbula, through fear hid herself
in the ship. But God, who had chosen all that company, gave her heart,
and with the dawn of the next day she came forth willingly, and
received the martyr's crown.

Thus all were slain, and all are gone to Paradise, and sing the glad
and sweet songs of Paradise.

       *       *       *       *       *

Whosoever reads this holy history, let him not think it a great thing
to say an Our Father and a Hail Mary for the soul of him who has
written it.






In the year 1869, just before leaving Venice, I had been carefully
looking at a picture by Victor Carpaccio, representing the dream of a
young princess. Carpaccio has taken much pains to explain to us, as
far as he can, the kind of life she leads, by completely painting her
little bedroom in the light of dawn, so that you can see everything in
it. It is lighted by two doubly-arched windows, the arches being
painted crimson round their edges, and the capitals of the shafts that
bear them, gilded. They are filled at the top with small round panes
of glass; but beneath, are open to the blue morning sky, with a low
lattice across them; and in the one at the back of the room are set
two beautiful white Greek vases with a plant in each, one having rich
dark and pointed green leaves, the other crimson flowers, but not of
any species known to me, each at the end of a branch like a spray of

These flower-pots stand on a shelf which runs all round the room and
beneath the window, at about the height of the elbow, and serves to
put things on anywhere; beneath it, down to the floor, the walls are
covered with green cloth, but above are bare and white. The second
window is nearly opposite the bed, and in front of it is the
princess's reading-table, some two feet and a half square, covered by
a red cloth with a white border and dainty fringe; and beside it her
seat, not at all like a reading-chair in Oxford, but a very small
three-legged stool like a music-stool, covered with crimson cloth. On
the table are a book, set up at a slope fittest for reading, and an
hour-glass. Under the shelf near the table, so as to be easily reached
by the outstretched arm, is a press full of books. The door of this
has been left open, and the books, I am grieved to say, are rather in
disorder, having been pulled about before the princess went to bed,
and one left standing on its side.

Opposite this window, on the white wall, is a small shrine or picture
(I can't see which, for it is in sharp retiring perspective), with a
lamp before it, and a silver vessel hung from the lamp, looking like
one for holding incense.

The bed is a broad four-poster, the posts being beautifully wrought
golden or gilded rods, variously wreathed and branched, carrying a
canopy of warm red. The princess's shield is at the head of it, and
the feet are raised entirely above the floor of the room, on a dais
which projects at the lower end so as to form a seat, on which the
child has laid her crown. Her little blue slippers lie at the side of
the bed, her white dog beside them; the coverlid is scarlet, the white
sheet folded half way back over it; the young girl lies straight,
bending neither at waist nor knee, the sheet rising and falling over
her in a narrow unbroken wave, like the shape of the coverlid of the
last sleep, when the turf scarcely rises. She is some seventeen or
eighteen years old, her head is turned towards us on the pillow, the
cheek resting on her hand, as if she were thinking, yet utterly calm
in sleep, and almost colourless. Her hair is tied with a narrow
riband, and divided into two wreaths, which encircle her head like a
double crown. The white nightgown hides the arm, raised on the pillow,
down to the wrist.

At the door of the room an angel enters (the little dog, though lying
awake, vigilant, takes no notice). He is a very small angel; his head
just rises a little above the shelf round the room, and would only
reach as high as the princess's chin, if she were standing up. He has
soft grey wings, lustreless; and his dress, of subdued blue, has
violet sleeves, open above the elbow, and showing white sleeves below.
He comes in without haste, his body like a mortal one, casting shadow
from the light through the door behind, his face perfectly quiet, a
palm-branch in his right hand, a scroll in his left.

So dreams the princess, with blessed eyes that need no earthly dawn.
It is very pretty of Carpaccio to make her dream out the angel's dress
so particularly, and notice the slashed sleeves; and to dream so
little an angel--very nearly a doll angel--bringing her the branch of
palm and message. But the lovely characteristic of all is the evident
delight of her continual life. Royal power over herself, and happiness
in her flowers, her books, her sleeping and waking, her prayers, her
dreams, her earth, her heaven.

       *       *       *       *       *

"How do I know the princess is industrious?"

Partly by the trim state of her room--by the hour-glass on the table,
by the evident use of all the books she has (well bound, every one of
them, in stoutest leather or velvet, and with no dog's-ears), but more
distinctly from another picture of her, not asleep. In that one a
prince of England has sent to ask her in marriage; and her father,
little liking to part with her, sends for her to his room to ask her
what she would do. He sits, moody and sorrowful; she, standing before
him in a plain housewifely dress, talks quietly, going on with her
needle-work all the time.

A workwoman, friends, she, no less than a princess; and princess most
in being so. In like manner is a picture by a Florentine, whose mind I
would fain have you know somewhat, as well as Carpaccio's--Sandro
Botticelli. The girl who is to be the wife of Moses, when he first
sees her at the desert well, has fruit in her left hand, but a distaff
in her right.

"To do good work, whether you live or die"--it is the entrance to all
Princedoms; and if not done, the day will come, and that infallibly,
when you must labour for evil instead of good.


Sunnyside, Orpington, Kent, 1872.

       *       *       *       *       *


       *       *       *       *       *

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