become more familiar with our own history we discover that our sisters not only shared the
same Rule and ideals but often a similar origin and process of development.
OF THE THIRD ORDER REGULAR
the carved seats of the 17th century choirstalls at our Motherhouse of Sts. Cosmas and
Damian, there is a series of paintings of the holy men and women of the Order of Penance
of St. Francis. It is a clear testimony to the historic link between the brothers and
sisters of the Third Order Regular even if in modern times this had been forgotten or
unknown among today's brothers and sisters. Our ancestors in the Order would have been
amazed that during the process of working towards the new Rule, a plan to adopt a separate
Rule for women was seriously proposed and considered by many congregations of Franciscan
sisters. And, although friars generally knew that most modern Franciscan congregations
followed our same Rule, it is probably quite accurate to say that many friars were very
surprised when they began to read notices about Cloistered "TOR Nuns " in
Communications TOR. It would even be more accurate to say that most friars have never
visited a monastery of TOR nuns. This is understandable since most of those associated
with our Order are located in Spain, Mexico and Italy. There are many reasons for this
shared ignorance on the part of the friars and sisters. Slowly the common quest for our
roots and spirituality is bringing about a change.
become more familiar with our own history we discover that our sisters not only shared the
same Rule and ideals but often a similar origin and process of development. This was
especially true in Italy where there were communities of Sisters of Penance in Viterbo
(1250), Montefalco (1275) and Rome (1288). In Germany, the Low Countries and France there
sprang into being groups named Grey Sisters, Hospitallers, or Elizabetines. And towards
the end of the 1200s numerous communities of Orthodox Beguines adopted the Third Rule of
St. Francis. In Italy these new " religious," often sharing a semi-cloistered
form of life, were generally and popularly known as "Bizzoche" ( the parallel
form of "Pinzoccheri" for the tertiary friars). Perhaps this nickname refers to
the pointed scapular worn by the brothers and sisters.
The name of "Beguines" seems to have originated in the French "beige"
describing the natural color of wool, (probably a less expensive type of cloth composed of
a mix of different grades and colors of wool). These women dressed in undyed woolen
garments and the name of "Beguines" often came to be used interchangeably with
that of "Grey" sisters. (Somewhat like the no longer existing congregation of
men popularly called "Frati Bigi" because of their grey habit.) Usually they had
the status as "recluses" and lived a semi-eremitical life close to a church or
convent where they could assemble for common prayers. This informal and flexible form of
an urban eremiticism allowed them a quiet and penitent life, sustained by their own manual
labor and often with some form of charitable apostolate.
was a strong trend to impose on these groups a more conventual or cloistered form of life
e.g. Bulls of Boniface VIII in 1298 and John XXII in 1317. Those that resisted, especially
in Germany, were subjected to a veritable persecution by the secular clergy and often
denounced to the Inquisition as heretics. This impelled many groups of Beguines to choose
a recognized Rule and often this was the Rule of the Third Order of St. Francis. They
found in the life of St. Elizabeth of Hungary a model of Franciscan Penitential life
devoted to God and to those in need.
development of TOR congregations of women, the outstanding figure is surely Bl. Angeline
of Marsciano who founded the Monastery of St. Anne at Foligno and either founded or
renewed other monasteries of Sisters of Penance throughout central Italy. Her Institute of
Sisters living in solemn vows and a form of cloister was approved by Boniface IX in 1397
and confirmed by Martin V in 1421. This congregation was unique in having as their
superior, elected for a three year period, a Minister General, who had authority over all
the houses. Bl. Angeline filled this office until her death in 1435. However, in 1461, at
the forceful insistence of the Vicar General of the Observants, Pius II suppressed the
office and placed the sisters under the direction of the OFM Observants. Later, they
adopted the Rule of Leo X with statutes given by this same pope and others added by St.
Pius V. At the end of the 16th century, the Order numbered 135 monasteries and some 4000
The Council of Trent in its directives for the monasteries of religious women centered on
the strict observance of the cloister as the means of the reform of the easy going life
exemplified by the monastery of Avila before the "conversion" of St. Teresa.
Although the Council in chapter 18 of "De Regularibus et Monialibus" seems to
have excepted "those Sisters called 'of Penance' " from the strict obligation of
cloister, many monasteries directed by their confessors or spiritual directors accepted
it. In fact the cloister soon began to be seen as a fundamental element of religious life
for all nuns professing solemn vows. St. Pius V decreed that those monasteries of nuns
which did not accept enclosure were forbidden to receive novices. The Papal Cloister of
nuns was to be strictly observed and any violations were punishable by an excommunication
reserved to the Holy See.
Many nuns of the Third Order Regular, especially in Spain and Portugal, faithful to the
Church's guidance, generously embraced the strict cloister and there developed among them
a strong sense of contemplative prayer. Unfortunately, sometimes this was not seen as
rooted and nourished by the penitential tradition and they were often seen as twins or
imitators of the Poor Clares. It is not so strange then that, guided by friars of the
First Order, especially in the search for their basic charism in response to Vatican II,
many historic monasteries passed over to the Second Order (e.g. Royal Monastery of St.
Isabel of Barcelona founded in 1564 changed to the 2nd Order in 1967. The Monastery of S.
Quirico in Assisi, founded by Bl. Angeline and linked to the origins of our own Convent de
S. Antonio, passed to the 2nd Order in 1948). Fortunately, the new TOR Rule provides an
unmistakable basis for the contemplative vocation of our cloistered nuns in its linkage of
penance and prayer.
years following Vatican II there developed a close collaboration between our friars and
some federations of TOR monasteries in courses of penitential spirituality and in the
elaboration of their new Constitutions. This style of collaboration in a basic equality is
seen as very natural between brothers AND sisters of the Third Order Regular. We do not
want to fall into an idea of superiority, of having the sisters "subject to" or
"under" our authority. As brothers we should want only to offer a service which
will help them be faithful to the penitential vocation which we have in common.
there have been some encouraging developments in plans to extend the presence of our
contemplative sisters into both North and South America. Plans are underway for a new
foundation in Guajara-Mirim, Brazil by nuns from the Federation of Our Lady of Guadalupe,
Mexico. And even though a projected foundation near the Spiritual Life Center staffed by
our Friars in the diocese of Orlando, USA was not possible, an interesting development is
taking place in the USA. A new community of contemplative TOR sisters is in the process of
being established in Steubenville. Ohio. This community plans to adopt the so called
"Constitutional Cloister" so they can unite contemplation with some charitable
service in the characteristic way of life of the first Franciscan Sisters of the Order of
Fr. Seraphin Conley, T.O.R.
ANGELINE OF MARSCIANO
Sister Maria Clotilde Filannino,OSF
Monastery of St. Anne, Foligno.
spiritual movement begun by St. Francis of Assisi has been compared to a great tree. Its
roots are deep into the ground, the trunk is often twisted yet strong, and its branches
are laden with fruit. However, to really know this tree in all its variety and shape, not
to mention its countless leaves, is very difficult.
beyond the image, in a similiar way we recognize that knowing all the saintly sons and
daughters of St. Francis is extremely difficult. To be able, as it were, to identify each
face or distinguish the special features of each one is even more difficult. These
followers of St. Francis are each so different from one another, and yet they all shared
Francis' passionate contemplation of the "God Who is not loved"! And each in his
particular way desired and strove to love and serve God as Francis had done. So we are
delighted when we become acquainted with someone in the great Franciscan Family whom we
had not known before. It is like discovering the picture of some distinguished ancestor in
a family photo album. Although unknown to us, here was someone very important in the
family history. For many of us, such a face or person is the holy and courageous daughter
of St. Francis, Bl. Angeline of Marsciano, or of the Counts of Montegiove. Even some who
are versed in Franciscan studies may not be familiar with her "features" or her
special qualities. Because she lived for so many years in Foligno she is often confused
with the great Franciscan mystic, Bl. Angela, who was born, lived and died in Foligno in
the 13tli century and is buried there in the Church of San Francisco.
celebration, not so long ago, of the 600 years of the founding of the Monastery of St.
Anne of Foligno has helped contribute to a greater knowledge of Bl. Angeline, the
foundress of that monastery. In it she lived in holiness for many years and, finally,
there she breathed forth her soul to God. One of the important events of the
multi-centennial celebrations in 1987 was a significant historical congress which brought
together many scholars to study and share their knowledge of her life and times. It also
provided the opportunity to compare her life with that of her modern daughters who follow
and share her charism. From this study has emerged a clearer picture of this woman and her
life which still speaks to our generation.
the youngest of 5 children, was born about the middle of the 14th century in the castle of
Montegiove in the Province of Terni. Her parents were of the nobility, related to the
Counts of Marsciano, the traditional rulers of Montegiove. Her mother, Alessandra, may
even have been of the Salimbene family of Siena. Shortly after Angeline's birth, her
father died of the plague in 1357 and her mother followed him in death soon afterwards.
When her brothers died in youth and without heirs, the castle passed to the cousins of
Angeline and her sister, Francesca. After the Lord had purified both sisters by these
trials, the latter part of the 14tli century found them living in Foligno. Francesca had
married a member of the Trinci family, the brother of Foligno's governor. Angeline was a
professed member of the Fraternity of St. Anne. To understand something of the spirit of
this fraternity, it is well to know a bit about the religious milieu of Foligno.
had been a very dynamic Franciscan fraternity at Foligno since the 13th century. This
comniunity's Franciscan spirituality strongly influenced the spirituality of the
penitential movement which had its center in the Church of St. Francis. One need only to
focus on Bl. Angeline to understand the community which had elected her as its leader.
There were at that time at Foligno, as in many other cities of Umbria, many
"bizzocaggi" or "beghinaggi" or places where the Penitents lived in
common. These Penitents observed the same Rule, approved in 1289 by the Franciscan Pope
Nicholas IV, as their secular Franciscan brothers and sisters living in their homes. They
continually encouraged one another "to do penance," to have constantly before
their eyes and in their thoughts Jesus Crucified, in whom alone is found that certainty
that one's own sins and the sins of the whole world have been forgiven. In this way, they
became men and women of peace and bearers of peace to others. Afire with love, they chose
to share in the sufferings of Christ on behalf of the Church and society. The Franciscan
Penitent was, above all, a person who welcomed the double dimension of the Cross of Christ
which revealed simultaneously the real malice of sin and the great heart of God's Son who
accepts human weakness, assumes it and redeems it. Guided by this powerful light,
surrendering completely to the Spirit of Jesus poured forth upon the Cross, the Brothers
and Sisters of Penance submitted themselves to the Reign of God, whose Will they sought to
fulfill in everything.
fraternity at Foligno had been founded before 1388 by Bl. Paoluccio Trinci who was the
promoter of a reform of the Friars Minor called "of the Observance. " He could
hardly have held back from influencing them with his spirit. His was a penitential, deeply
contemplative spirit, a spirit of fraternity yet joined to an eremitical spirit, and,
especially, a spirit which respected the uniqueness of each person in his/her journey
towards God and in their mutual relationships. After the death of Friar Paoluccio around
1400, Angeline became the director and spiritual guide of this penitential fraternity. In
1403, Pope Boniface IX gave explicit approval of their way of life and the fraternity soon
became the center of a federation of other fraternities in central Italy located in
Assisi, Todi, Perugia, Florence, Viterbo, and Ascoli-Piceno. By 1428 these fraternities
had united to form a Congregation and Angeline became the first Minister General. We do
not know much about her life dur;ng those years. although we do know that she travelled
frequently between the various fraternities to encourage and sustain them. The documents
do show that 1430 was one of the most difficult periods in the life of Angeline and her
Congregation. The reason is found in the fact that the Friars Minor of the Observance had
become numerous and influential in the Order and, having been part of the origins of the
Foligno Congregation, felt that they should take a stronger role in the guidance of the
Congregation. It was very clear that their concept of the Congregation's life and
activities and their desire to impose the cloister would have meant the end of this unique
experience in the penitential movement, so different from the traditional monastic life.
Bl. Angeline suffered the painful experience of misunderstanding and contradiction. She
saw herself ordered by the legitimate representatives of the Church to renounce an
inspiration she was convinced had come from God. She made the choice of a saint and
obeyed, leaving to God the defense of her cause. This was accomplished through the sisters
of her community who defended her tenaciously and successfully! Angeline died on July 14,
1435 and was buried near Bl. Angela in the Church of San Francesco at Foligno. Since the
15th century her tomb has been an object of veneration by the faithful.
The Congregation of Blessed Angeline
the suppression of the office of Minister General in 1461, the Federation dissolved and
each monastery was left to its own devices. The Monastery of St. Anne continued its
existence according to the style of a "beghinage. " In 1615, the community
accepted the strict cloister imposed by the Holy See on all monasteries of women. It
faithfully observed the cloistered form of life until 1903 when the monastery became the
Motherhouse of a restructured Congregation of Franciscan Tertiary Sisters of Bl. Angeline
dedicated primarily to an apostolate of education.
modern adaptation of the ancient Congregation has sought to rediscover the charism of its
Mother and Foundress so as to better serve the needs of the Church and people of today.
Their study has examined its ancient Constitutions, the themes represented in the
interesting cycle of paintings which have enriched the Monastery of St. Anne over the
centuries, and even the structure of the monastery itself, along with the rediscovery of
its other "Founder" Bl. Paoluccio, the promoter of the Observant movement. The
results of these studies have contributed to the recovery of the essential outline of a
spirituality so current that it responds to certain needs of today. It is a spirituality
which translates into a practical way of life grounded especially on penance/conversion,
on contemplation, on fraternity and which is attentive to human nature and to the Plan
written by God the Creator in the formation of each person.
renewed understanding and appreciation of a practical penitential spirituality is also a
blessing to be shared with all the brothers and sisters of the Franciscan Third Order
Regular of our own times.
Maria Clotilde Filannino,OSF
Monastery of St. Anne, Foligno.
information may be found in the book:
La Beata Angelina da Montegiove e la Conscienza Unitaria nel
di San Francesco. ROMA, 1984.