Famed for her beauty

Angela was born in 1474 in Desenzano del Gardo, a small town by Lake Garda in Lombardy. She and her older sister Giana Maria were orphaned when Angela was just 10.

They went to live with their uncle and further tragedy followed when Giana suddenly died without receiving the last sacraments. This led Angela to join the lay Third Order of St Francis so that she could pray for her sister, and she received a vision in which her sister was in heaven in the company of the saints.

Famed for her beauty, Angela responded to her many admiring glances by dying her hair in soot.

When her uncle died, she returned to Lake Garda, where she dedicated her time to teaching girls in her home, which she turned into a school. In that era it was rare for women to receive an education unless they were wealthy. The best-educated women – nuns – were cloistered and so had little influence on many of the poor women who were growing up uneducated and largely ignorant of religion.

Angela’s next vision told her to found an association of virgins who would devote their lives to the religious training of young girls. She then started a second school in nearby Brescia. When she was 50 she travelled to the Holy Land but was blinded en route in Crete, before continuing on to Jerusalem, where her sight was restored in front of a crucifix. The following year, a jubilee year, she travelled to Rome, where Clement VII invited her to stay. But she soon returned to Brescia, uncomfortable with fame in the big city.

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