Friday, February 27, 2009

Pregnant with God in Foligno (but not in Perugia!)

Pregnant with God

Last week we accompanied the Senora Traub and the "Saints and Relics" class on a trip to to view the body of the Blessed Angela of Foligno . A medieval city that sits on a plain with virtually no hills and few remaining historic structures, Foligno is an anomaly in this region. Nonetheless, it has a rich history dating back to pre-Roman Umbria, and played an important role in the story of Francis and his followers. For example, when Francis was trying to raise money to restore the chapel of San Damiano he took some of his father's cloth stock and sold it in Foligno, a center of commerce at the time. Foligno's strategic position and its shifting alliances with Pope and Emperor made it a natural enemy of Perugia to the north and west, which tore down its walls in 1282 after it had betrayed its former ally. In more recent times, Foligno's location made it a good location for a rail link to Perugia, and therefore a site for an important rail yard. Unfortunately, this invited Allied bombing during WW II, thus the unfortunate loss of many historic sites and the dreary modernity of many of its buildings.

( The photo to the right captures the sad aesthetic of Foligno. Notice the small remnant of Foligno's medieval wall lost in a background of modern high rises.)

While there we visited the church of San Francesco, which contains the Sanctuary of the Blessed Angela where her remains are still on display. We were treated to a lecture by a jolly friar, Fr. Dominic about the life and significance of Angela. The lecture was in Italian, but I think I was able to glean many details (augmented by a bit or research, of course.) Angela lived about a generation after Francis's death and as the story goes, lived a life of noble luxury and dubious morality. As she entered middle age, she lost her husband and parents, possibly to some plague or epidemic. She made a confession, but apparently she concealed a particularly shameful sin from her confessor, but took communion nonetheless -- a very bad sacrilege! So she prayed to Francis for help, and he appeared to her in a dream. Following this she led a life of penance, including anorexia mirabilis, and had a profound mystical experience. She dictated an account of her conversion and mysticism to her confessor and this was published as the Book of Visions and Instructions. Fr. Dominic quoted from this work a particularly striking phrase:
"Il mondo รจ incinto con il dio" (The world is pregnant with God.)

Although she is not an official saint, Angela is the patron of widows, theologians, those who struggle against sexual temptation, and for people who are ridiculed for their piety (although not only for those who meet all these criteria at once!)

Finally a European Country!

Returning to Perugia, we were greeted by a scene not often encountered in Italy: an information table set up to advocate for the UAAR (The Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.) In their literature, they advocate to make Italy "finalmente un paese europeo" (finally a European country) including the recognition of civil unions, living wills, no discrimination based on sexual orientation, more liberal divorce laws, and de- criminalizing euthanasia, and opposition to renaming the main train station in Rome (Termini di Roma) which the current right-wing mayor wants to change to "John Paul II." Most recently, UAAR sponsored a showing of "The Life of Brian" on Darwin Day in Venice.
(I've added a picture of this unique display, including a button I purchased which reads "No to the Vatican, No to Jihad.")

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