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The reputation of Angela of Foligno

06 February 2015


From Dr Carole Hill
Sir, - I fear I must contradict Jane Christmas ("A man for all seasons, but no plaster saint", Faith, 30 January) and come running to the defence of poor St Angela of Foligno (1248-1309) - in my opinion, a wildly inappropriate parallel life to use in discussing the life and gifts of Thomas Merton - and ask on what evidence she is labelled "a good-time girl who whored her way through life"?

I believe Angela confessed to sins left unnamed, like many another. Perhaps Ms Christmas has been misguided by the sexual imagery and metaphor redolent of 13th- century visionary mysticism, and Angela's inclination to strip (literally) to the buff before the cross as she drew closer to the poverty characteristic of medieval Franciscan spirituality. She became a tertiary of the Franciscan order.

Much more shocking to the modern sensibility was Angela's constant prayer that her family, including her many children, should all die to release her to singular commitment to God, mirroring dramatically Christ's gospel injunction to leave behind father, mother, and family ties, to follow him alone.

In short, Angela was engaged in an exercise in imitatio Christi. When they all did expire in rapid succession, she was, naturally, grief-stricken. Her spiritual aspirations and noisy mystical experiences, loud enough to get her thrown out of the basilica in Assisi, were very similar to a slightly later would-be-saint and female mystic, our own Margery Kempe of Bishop's Lynn.

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