Saint Angela of Foligno

Feast day February 28

Saints Stories for All Ages

Angela of Foligno is a model for people who want to simplify their lifestyle. As a young adult she reveled in luxury and sensuality. She married a rich man of Foligno, Italy, and used his wealth to indulge herself in possessions. And her impetuous temperament nudged her into sinful behavior.

However in 1285, Angela made a surprising about-face. One day she wept bitterly and confessed a serious sin to a friar, who absolved her. Then she embarked on a life of prayer and penance. Over the next six years, step-by-step she divested herself of her attachments to people and things.

In 1288 her mother, husband, and sons died of a plague. As a widow, Angela was free to concentrate on her pursuit of holiness. She modeled herself on St. Francis of Assisi and joined the Franciscan Third Order in 1291. Like Francis, Angela expected to meet Christ in the poor. For instance, on Holy Thursday, 1292, she and a companion went to care for lepers at the hospital in Foligno. After they had washed a man who was badly decomposed, they drank some of the bathwater. The experience so moved Angela that she says all the way home she felt “as if we had received Holy Communion.”

Angela of Foligno was a visionary who, like St. Catherine of Siena, at the drop of a hat might fall into a trance. From 1292 to 1296 she dictated her revelations to Brother Arnold, her confessor. Angela recorded 30 steps of her tortured spiritual journey, which always seemed to blend awareness and absence of God, certitude and doubt, and joy and agony.

A small band of disciples gathered around the saint. She led them wisely, instructing them in basic Christian living. This excerpt from her Instructions advocates prayer and meditation on Scripture:

No one can be saved without divine light. Divine light causes us to begin and to make progress, and it leads us to the summit of perfection. Therefore if you want to begin and to receive this divine light, pray. If you have begun to make progress, pray. And if you have reached the summit of perfection, and want to be super-illumined so as to remain in that state, pray. If you want faith, pray. If you want hope, pray. If you want charity, pray. If you want poverty, pray. If you want obedience, pray. If you want chastity, pray. If you want humility, pray. If you want meekness, pray. If you want fortitude, pray. If you want any virtue, pray.

And pray in this fashion: always reading the Book of Life, that is, the life of the God-man, Jesus Christ, whose life consisted of poverty, pain, contempt and true obedience.

At Christmas, 1308, Angela told her companions she would die shortly. A few days later Christ appeared to her, promising to come personally to take her to heaven. She died in her sleep on January 3, 1309.

from Voices of the Saints, by Bert Ghezzi

Image credit: Saint Paul of Thebes as a Hermit by Meister von MeBkirch, 1540. Public Domain via Wikimedia.