Key to Umbria: Foligno

Blessed Angela of Foligno (4th January)

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Panel (1791) by Gaetano Gandolfi

of a vision of Angela of Foligno

San Francesco, Foligno

Angela was born in Foligno in ca. 1249.  According to tradition, she lived in this house (14th century) at number 39 Piazzetta Beata Angela da Foligno (see Walk II).  She was married to a wealthy man at a young age and had a family. 

Angela led what she later regarded as a sinful life until what seems to have been a sudden conversion  in ca. 1285.  This might have been the result of an encounter with the Blessed Peter Crisci: she records that "I used to make fun of a certain Petruccio, but now I could not do otherwise than follow his example".  She was too ashamed to make a full confession until St Francis appeared to her in a vision and exhorted her to true repentance.  Under his guidance, she chose Brother Arnold (a Franciscan friar who seems to have been related to her) as her confessor.

Blessed Angela then began a life of penance, prayer and (despite her marital status) celibacy.  When her husband and children died suddenly (presumably in an epidemic) in ca. 1288, she became the leading light in a fraternity of lay men and women that had been formed in 1270 at San Francesco.  This community subsequently belonged to the Franciscan Third Order.

Blessed Angela visited Assisi in 1291 with a few companions.  At the wayside church of SS Trinità, outside Assisi, she heard the voice of God saying that He would be with her until the second time that she entered the church of San Francesco there.

Blessed Angela and her companions proceeded to Assisi and prayed at the altar of the lower tomb, before the tomb of St Francis.  They then entered the upper church and as she looked at an image in a stained glass window to the left of the entrance, which depicts St Francis in the arms of Christ, at first she felt that Christ possessed her, but then the feeling faded.  She later described her reaction: “I could not nor did I scream out any other words than these: ‘Love still unknown, why? why? why?’  Furthermore, these screams were so choked up in my throat that the words were unintelligible. Nonetheless what remained with me was a certitude that God, without any doubt, had been speaking to me ...”.  Brother Arnold, who was in the Sacro Convento at the time, was hugely embarrassed and forbad her from ever visiting Assisi again.

Once back in Foligno, Blessed Angela explained to Fra Arnaldo how she had been feeling during her vision.  He was initially sceptical, but when he realised the depth of this and other of her mystical experiences, he began to write a Latin account, the  “Memoriale” in Latin, taking dictation in her Umbrian dialect  This work was complete by 1298.  It circulated quite widely and, as a result, Blessed Angela became influential, particularly among those Franciscan friars who were working to reform the Order.  She wrote or dictated letters to many of them, giving advice on the spiritual life.  After her death, these were collected into what is now called her Instructiones.

Angela died in 1309 and was buried in San Francesco.  Her tomb immediately became the focus of a cult.  Brother Arnold wrote her biography, but despite the support of influential cardinals and despite the miracles reported at her tomb, she does not seem to have been the subject of a formal process of canonisation.  However, Pope Clement XI confirmed her cult in 1701. 

The relics of the Blessed Angela were kept inside a wooden reliquary until the 20th century, when they were transferred to the present reliquary, on the 2nd altar on left of San Francesco.  (The altarpiece of this altar is illustrated at the top of the page.)  [They have been temporarily transferred to the Oratorio del Gonfalone while the church is repaired after the earthquake of 2016.]

The wooden reliquary (16th century) is in the sacristy.