We actually know very little about Angela. She was a woman who lived in Foligno in the second half of the thirteenth century. The only source to reconstruct her life is the Liber, definitely one of the most important texts of Christian mysticism, a true literary masterpiece, which she dictated in the vernacular to her confessor, the frater scriptor, traditionally indicated – but without any evidence – with friar Arnaldo, friar minor of the local convent, her relative, who transcribed in a simple Latin and easy to understand, since she could read, but not write.
Angela was born around 1248, in Foligno where she lives a normal life as bride and mother, with a rather mundane lifestyle that she will later disavow radically. After the death of her mother, husband and children in the course of a few months, around 1285, she lives a profound conversion: just as St. Francis, Angela sells her properties, distributes the proceeds among the poor, becomes a voluntary penitent and, in 1291, she joins the Third Order Franciscan and wants to maintain her lay status. Her great penances and deprivations (among which a fasting of 12 years is also mentioned) quickly led her to the heights of the spiritual path and of the experience of God, especially of the Trinity. The end of the spiritual path for Angela is the loss of one’s identity, of one’s name, of one’s will to hide oneself in God. The identification of one’s will with God’s will occurs through charity and penance which are the two pillars of Angela’s spirituality.
In Foligno, a crossroad of routes and spirituality, many convents and monasteries had been founded in the meantime following the pauperistic spiritual choice. However, Angela avoids entering into a regularly constituted Franciscan community and instead becomes a “prisoner” of her house that transforms into a jail “ad poenitentiam peragendam”, where she lives with another woman, named Masazuola. Perhaps this is one of the elements that allow Romana Guarnieri and Father Massimo Vedova to consider Angela a beguine later passed, as often happened in central Italy, to the Franciscan Third Order.
After 1294, probable year of the composition of her Memorial, around Angela a cenacle becomes constituted of spiritual life and social action, which we know through her Instructions and the letters. In this cenacle we find the major exponents of the rigorist current of the Franciscan movement. Angela, surrounded by her disciples, whom she blesses “with all her heart (…) present and absent“, dies in Foligno on 4 January 1309, praying with the words of Christ on the cross (Instructions, XXXVI, 66sg, 136sg).
This great mystic, recently canonized by Pope Francis in 2013, stands out for the intellectual knowledge of the Divine Being and approaches other contemporaries of the northern mysticism: Mechthild of Magdebourg, Mechthild of Hackeborn, Gertrude of Helfta, Marguerite Porete.
Source: Informations obtained mainly from the works by don Mario Sensi, Domenico Sebastiani, Alessandra Bartolomei Romagnoli, and padre Massimo Vedova.