Today is the feast of Our Lady of Angels.
Our Lady of Angels, or of the Portiuncula, is located six hundred yards from the city of Assissium, in Italy. It was a desolate locality, and apparently an unsettled one where robbers and the lawlessness flourished, for the Benedictines who had lived at the monastery felt it was too hazardous to remain there. They abandoned the monastery, relocating to Mount Subasio. The original chapel is thought to date from the 4th Century, and was built by holy hermits who had come from the Valley of Josaphat. It is said that they brought relics of the Blessed Virgin with them to the region when they constructed the chapel.
When Saint Francis chanced to come upon the little, run down and abandoned chapel of Our Lady of Angels, or Santa Maria degli Angelis, in the year 1208, it was almost completely hidden in shrubs and brush. Saint Francis entered the hidden church, which measured only twenty-two feet by thirteen feet, and saw the ancient fresco that had been placed above the main altar. It was an image of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin surrounded by angels. Some say that this is why the chapel was named Our Lady of Angels, although there are also legends that angels could often be heard singing there.
This chapel was the Saint’s favorite spot on earth. It was here he heard the Gospel that caused him to establish his First Order. Here Francis received his first brothers, and from here he sent them into the world. In this chapel, St. Clare knelt before the image of Our Lady of the Angels, and on the floor her golden tresses fell beneath the scissors plied by Francis himself. Indeed, Francis placed such a high value on this chapel, which he had rebuilt with his own hands, that he wrote a special rule just for “Portiuncula.”
At first Saint Francis wished the convent which he built there to be the principal one of his order. He assembled the first General Chapter here, where there were five thousand religious. It was also where he died on October 3rd in the year 1226, the twentieth of his conversion, and at age forty-five. The cell in which the poor man of Assisi died can still be seen where it rests against one of the columns of the cupola under the choir bay.
In Franciscan annals August 2 is one of the most important days of the year, for it is the Feast of St. Mary of the Angels, the anniversary of the dedication of the birthplace of the Franciscan Order, the day of a special Indulgence, the Portiuncula Indulgence. The origin of the Portiuncula Indulgence has been lost in the haze of centuries. The first written document we have regarding this Indulgence is dated October 31, 1277, some sixty years after the Indulgence is said to have been granted. As a result, many different accounts have come down to us purporting to relate the vision of St. Francis and the way in which the Pope consented to grant this Indulgence. Each author seems to relate a different version that St. Francis beheld. However, although the accounts differ in details, in substance they are the same.
No one has ever better described the full significance of this devotion to Mary than St. Francis himself when he said to Pope Honorius: “I need nothing more than your word. Our Lady is the parchment, Christ the notary, and the Angels our witnesses!”
It was on the feast of Our Lady, Queen of Angels, August 2, 1492, that Christopher Columbus knowing there was a plenary indulgence granted to all who received Holy Communion on that day, went with all his crew to Mass, received Holy Communion, finished packing his boat — called the Santa Maria, the Holy Mary — and set sail for the New World. It took Columbus seventy-two days to cross the ocean. (6)
Image: The Miracle of the Porziuncola, Artist: António de Oliveira Bernardes, Circa 1698. (5)
Research by REGINA Staff