Medieval mystic Angela da Foligno is named a Saint

Angela da FolignoPope Francis made the surprising announcement last week that Angela da Foligno, an Italian Franciscan and mystic, has been named a saint.

It is unusual for a saint to be named directly by a Pope without having to undergo a formal canonization process that includes learning about at least two miracles performed by the person. Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, had made the submission that Angela be made a saint immediately, and on Friday the Pope accepted the request.

Angela was born in 1248 into a wealthy family at Foligno, in Umbria, and married at an early age. In her later years she became more devout and eventually sold off her possessions and joined the Third Order of St. Francis in 1291. She dictated an account of her conversion and spiritual awakening in a work known as the Memoriale, and also composed other religious works. Until her death in 1309, Angela was a highly regarded mystic who gained a variety of followers within the Franciscan movement.

In her thesis on the life of Angela da Foligno, Caroljane Roberson explains:

From her discussions of her past sins, we gather that Angela lived a materially-oriented life that was very indulgent. Later in life, she was plagued by guilt over her sins, which led her to strive to live more devoutly. However, she felt she could not pursue life as a part of a Church order and have her family too; her writings indicate that her husband verbally abused her over the new devout life she was living. The reader learns later, when Angela was recounting her faith journey, that she understood the death of her mother, her husband, and her sons as God’s mercy in granting her prayers for their deaths. Then a widow, she journeyed to the church of San Francesco in Assisi. It was here that Angela had her first mystical experience, after she had already been pursuing a penitential path focused on imitating the sufferings of Jesus.

Roberson adds that Angela’s extreme views sometimes clashed with the male church authorities. “Angela is intriguing in that she asserted that she desired a martyr’s death greater than that of previous saints,” Roberson explains. “She also claimed to desire a death viler and slower than that of Christ himself. These claims fly in the face of the Church’s reasoning, as it commanded that female saints undertake only moderate asceticism. She explained her view of extreme penance in her Dialogue, saying, ‘How long does penance last, and how much of it is there? As long as one lives. And as much as one can bear’.”

Click here to read Wolves in Lamb’s Clothing: Redeeming the Images of Catherine of Siena and Angela of Foligno

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