21 October – Feast Day of Saint Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins

Today I learned that someone close to me was raped this week. 

I’m sorry. Let me repeat that, because simple language is such an inefficient carrier for news this tragic:

Today I learned that someone close to me was raped this week.

The details are dreadful and painful in the extreme. To say nothing of the psychological wounding the perpetrators (yes, there was more than one coward) inflicted, the physical pains will resonate through her battered body for months, at least.

Where does this deeply ugly thirst for violation derive? How is it possible that man, born of woman’s womb and nursing, can exact such terrible suffering from his virtual sister?

I find it incomprehensible, and an ineraseable blot of shame on my gender.

Back in the early Middle Ages, around the ninth century, the cult of Saint Ursula began to flourish. Storytellers generally agreed that she had sailed to Cologne, Germany, where she was killed.

Any number of explanations have been proffered to explain away the extravagant number – eleven thousand – of virgin martyrs who died in her company: Perhaps it was a misreading of roman numerals; or a misreading of Ursula’s youthful age (only eleven years old); maybe it was a misreading of Ursula’s true name (“Undecimillia”); etcetera.

All arise to explain away the supposed impossibility of eleven thousand women being martyred by men.

Tonight, though, I read that a woman is raped every six minutes in the United States alone. Every six minutes: that’s ten an hour; it’s 240 a day, every blessed day of the year.

Urusula’s martyred companions seem to me tonight almost too small a number, by a magnitude of eight. It’s terrible – shocking – terrifying – sickening – to realize; but even today, in our enlightened age, over 87,000 women are raped every year in the United States.

May we somehow eventually come to honor the suffering and agony of Ursula, her companions, and their several thousand sisters, by raising our sons to be men who will treat women with equality, love, and respect.

Published in: on 4 November 2008 at 12:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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