Saint Angela of Foligno: Franciscan Mystic

Saint Angela of Foligno: Franciscan Mystic

On January 4, Franciscans, especially the Third Order, both Secular and Regular, celebrate the memory of the great mystic, Saint Angela of Foligno (c. 1248–1309). In the USA, she is remembered on January 7.

Early life comfortable, carefree

Angela was born into a well-to-do family in the town of Foligno, Umbria, Italy, only a short distance from Assisi, and was married as a young woman. Her early life was comfortable, indeed carefree and superficial; in fact, she dismissed people who were seriously committed to religious activities.

Vision of Francis spurs Angela to redirect her life

When she was in her late 30s, however, she had a vision of St. Francis that caused her to start examining her life. Especially after the death of her family in a plague in 1288, she totally redirected her life, formally joining the Brothers and Sisters of Penance (Franciscan Third Order) in 1291.

St Angela of Foligno Church of San Francesco Foligno 700pxlsChurch of San Francesco in Foligno, where Angela frequently worshiped

Angela records her intense mystical journey

In the years that followed, her friar spiritual director asked permission to record her increasingly intense mystical journey. Angela devoted herself to prayer and the care of the sick and the poor, becoming the center of a group of both laypeople and religious that recognized her as a spiritual guide.

St Angela of Foligno 18th c print instruments of the Passion 700pxls18th-century print of Angela with instruments of the Passion

Known as “teacher of theologians”

Pope St. John Paul II reminded us that she was referred to in her own time as “the Teacher of Theologians,” and in 2013, Pope Francis confirmed the centuries-long devotion to Angela as a saint.

St Angela of Foligno tomb Foligno 700pxlsTomb of Angela in the Church of San Francesco, Foligno. The inscription describes her as "Teacher of Theologians."

Pope Benedict XVI praises Angela

Pope Benedict XVI praised Angela in a talk in October 2010:

On Angela’s spiritual journey the transition from conversion to mystical experience, from what can be expressed to the inexpressible, took place through the Crucified One. He is the “God-made-human of the Passion,” who became her “teacher of perfection.” The whole of her mystical experience, therefore, consisted in striving for a perfect “likeness” with him, through ever deeper and ever more radical purifications and transformations. Angela threw her whole self, body and soul, into this stupendous undertaking, never sparing herself of penance and suffering, from beginning to end, desiring to die with all the sorrows suffered by the God-man crucified in order to be totally transformed in him.

See the entire text of Pope Benedict’s reflection.

Wisdom from Angela’s writings

Hence when the soul is told: “What do you want?” it can respond: “I want God.” God then tells it, “I am the one making you feel that desire.” Until it reaches this point, the soul’s desire is not true or integral. This form of desire is granted to the soul by a grace by which it knows that God is within it, and that it is in companionship with God. . .

 

When I am in that darkness I do not remember anything about anything human, or the God-man, or anything which has a form. Nevertheless, I see all and I see nothing. As what I have spoken of withdraws and stays with me, I see the God-made-human. He draws my soul with great gentleness and he sometimes says to me: “You are I and I am you.”

Learn more

Angela’s writings were translated into English by Paul Lachance, OFM, and published in 1993 in the Classics of Western Spirituality series. 

See also Dr. Darleen Pryds’ CFIT Franciscan Heritage study Women of the Streets for more information on Angela.

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Main image: Contemporary stained-glass window of Saint Angela of Foligno

Dominic Monti

Written by : Dominic Monti

Dominic V. Monti, OFM, is a Franciscan Friar of Holy Name Province (USA) and currently professor of Franciscan Research in the Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University. A native of nearby Bradford, PA, he was educated at St. Bonaventure (BA); after joining the Order, he attended the Catholic University of America (STB), Union Theological Seminary, NY (STM), and the Divinity School of the University of Chicago (PhD). He devoted the greater part of his ministry to teaching the History of Christianity, in particular the history of the Franciscan movement. He has contributed two volumes to the Works of St. Bonaventure series and is author of Francis & His Brothers, a popular history of the Friars Minor. He is spiritual assistant to a federation of Poor Clares and the Franciscan Secular Institute, the Missionaries of the Kingship of Christ.