The news of María Ángela Astorch’s approaching beatification in 1981 took everyone by surprise, even the capuchin communities. Nobody expected it: it had been more than three centuries since she died, one hundred thirty years since the decree of her heroic virtues, more than a century since the performance of the miracle that would be used for her glorification. It seems like God was waiting for the right moment to make her peculiar message known, that distinction that moved John Paul II to present her to the postcouncil as the Breviary Mystic in the solemn act of beatification on May 23, 1982.
Maria Angela is, in chronological order, the first capuchina to be beatified, even though two other ones who lived after her were beatified first: saint Veronica Giulani (1727) and blessed Maria Magdalen Martinengo (1737).
She herself had left us her own story and her singular spiritual experience in her autobiographical accounts, ordered by her confessors, and in her spiritual beads, written over more than thirty years. In addition, we have the declarations of the nuns in the informative process, dated from 1668.
The Precocious Young Orphan
Jeronima, fourth offspring of Cristobal and Isabel Astorch, was born on September 1st, 1582, in Barcelona. Her father, who belonged to the book guild, had an important public office. Her mother, heiress to a great fortune, was a woman of unblemished religiosity. Dona Isabel died in 1593, when little Jeronima was barely ten months old. She was entrusted to the care of a wet nurse in the town of Sarria. Four years later Don Cristobal died. The little orphan remained with her nurse, who loved her as her own, until she was nine years old. She wrote, remembering those years: “I was the joy and entertainment of the whole place. My recreation was playing with birds, of which there was a large number and were beautiful, and with the birds of the sky. And in the afternoons, when it cooled and the moon came out, go to solitary places full of trees…”.
She was around nine years old when one day, because she had eaten “green gravel”, became so sick everybody thought she was dying and they even started preparing her burial. In her memories, she attributes her return to life to the intercession of Mother Angela Serafina and the prodigious intervention of the Virgin Mary. Since then, she would later write, “my life is in the hands of this divine Lady”. And she adds: “My childhood lasted until I was seven: from then on, I was a judicious woman and very much aware, suffering, ready for service, silent and real”.
When she was nine, one of the tutors took responsibility for her education. She learned to read and do labor. It awakened in her an uncontrollable fondness for books, especially those in Latin. She herself affirms that her teacher was impressed by her speed of comprehension and ease of retention.
To Mother Angela Serafina Prat’s School
On September 16, 1603, having just turned eleven years old, Jeronima was welcomed into the capuchinas convent in Barcelona; the Bishop, don Alfonso Coloma, personally brought her to the foundress, Mother Angela Serafina Prat. This saintly woman had brought together in 1589 a group of young colleagues, the most loyal of which was Isabel Astorch, Jeronima’s older sister. Two years later she obtained from the pontifical nuncio permission to erect a convent of capuchinas, which since February 1603, had its own constitution. Vocations were numerous, attracted by the austere and cloistered life and piety of the nuns, and also by the saintly fame of its foundress.
Our young lady, who received the name of Maria Angela, couldn’t contain her joy at finding herself in that saintly place, where penitential rigor and simple and happy family climate were present. “The first thing God put in my heart – she writes – was that the nuns were saints. Even when they talked among themselves or even any noise in the house, everything tasted as sanctity to me. And it moved me to deep devotion. My heart was passionate about learning from them everything related to mortification and penitence…”
She was blessed in finding the spiritual guide she needed on the aragonite priest Monsignor Martin Garcia, wrought in the hermit life for many years. Innocently, she opened her spirit to him, and he would intelligently guide her to a well versed piety which would plunge her into mental prayer and into infused contemplation. Maria Angela adopted as her living role models her venerated Mother Angela Serafina, of elevated mystical experiences, and her own sister sor Isabel, also favored with superior gifts.
However, she had to suffer the incomprehension, harshness and abuse of a teacher, jealous and immature, that never lost an occasion to humiliate her. She couldn’t stand what the others, especially the foundress, liked about the young girl: her sonorous and melodious voice in the choral chants, her knowledge about the liturgical books, her courteous manners, her grown up comments, even her pious acts. Maria Angela suffered in silence and made an effort to answer with kindness and humility, but she couldn’t overcome her incompatibility with the teacher. “She was the complete opposite to my natural condition – she declares – the way that servant of God was always horrified me”.
There was another particular motive to suffer: her passionate love for books in Latin. When she entered the convent, she had brought with her the six books of the Breviary, which she had bought previously. She was already familiar with the latines of the official prayer of the church, which would become her spiritual food and comfort. Being surrounded by books in Latin was heaven for her. As the child she was, she loved to stack the breviaries and day prayer books that the nuns had in the choir. She had no solace when they took away her Breviary; her confessor ordered all her Latin books taken away from her, and forbade her to use biblical and liturgical books in this language when she talked to him in the confessional. It was amazing how well she applied them and her extensive dominion of the liturgical language.
She had to spend five years as an aspirant, but following the novitiate regime. Her probationary canonical year under the direction of her sister sor Isabel, who substituted her former teacher by orders of the foundress, started on September 7th, 1608. She calls that intense contemplative and ascetic time, guided and counseled by the evangelist St John, “the spring of my spirit”. She herself has left us a sketch of her saintly sister’s formative criteria; she inculcated personal responsibility: each novice was expected to be “her own teacher”. Far from spoiling her little sister, she was dry and even evasive with her. This and the temptations and spiritual trials she had to surmount that year helped her to mature internally. One of the temptations by the enemy was wanting to go to another Order of a more monastic and solemn pace, “to dedicate herself more freely to prayer and spiritual books”.
Because of her exquisite culture and maturity, she was put in charge of instructing her fellow novices. And this also brought some mortification; they called her “the little teacher”.
As soon as the canonical year was over, on September 8th, 1609, sor Maria Angela professed her vows. She continued her formation still under the guidance of her sister Isabel, now “teacher of the young”, and under the spiritual direction of the kind monsignor Martin Garcia. She always remembered those happy years lived with an uncontrollable desire for God, dedicating herself to reading and humility and mortification exercises. With her sister and another two classmates she made a pact of “personal sisterhood and challenge”, beautiful action in generosity, where the rigorous mutual correction were not amiss together with public and private reparation. Everything took place under the paternal supervision of the old confessor, always ready to moderate what could prove excessive in those juvenile devotions. He had no doubts when he allowed them more days of communion a week over those that their community had, so satisfied was he with the spiritual growth of the three young nuns.
This is how she remembers, in her always expressive language, the joys of her spirit, especially the biblical contemplation:
“At this time, my soul was like a butterfly, night and day, burning in a real fire and thirsting insatiably for my God…I was away from Him only when I slept; and when I awoke, called by my divine Lord, to find particular passages in Scripture, the Gospels and the Song of Solomon. Singing the Divine Office filled me with great peace and tranquility. I had a great understanding of what was written in many places and verses…”.
And she related her suffering when her confessor forbade her to place all her attention on such matters during the choral prayer, or recite or sing verses outside the choir, like she had been doing during her chores.
Wanting more than the biblical readings from the Breviary, she decided she would read the whole Bible in Latin, from the first page in Genesis. For two years she was sacristan and “choral supervisor”, since none other was better prepared to ensure the fidelity to the rubrics and the correct reading of the Latin texts. Beside, in spite of her young age, she was elected sixth discreet, that is, one of the eight advisors that the rule of Saint Clare prescribes.
Novice Master at 21
The convent of Saint Margaret in Barcelona soon grew, helping to create a constellation of foundations all over Spain, Sardinia, Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Chile, Argentina…Today there are about a hundred monasteries whose origin goes back to the one founded by Mother Angela Serafina.
In 1609 was the foundation of Gerona and Valencia. In 1614, it was Zaragoza’s turn. On May 24th of that year the six nuns destined for the foundation of the Monastery that would be named “Our Lady of the Angels” arrived in Aragon’s capital. Among them was sor Maria Angela, who had the offices of master of novices and secretary. She was 21 years old.
At times she felt overwhelmed to be “in charge of souls to teach them religion and the spiritual way and how to relate to God”. But she would overcome it with the certainty of divine help. She modeled herself after the evangelical pedagogy of her sister Isabel, now Abbess in Barcelona, and who would die two years later known for her sanctity. Maria Angela’s ideals and methods for formation have been compiled in her treatise Spiritual Practice for the new and novices. Her first concern was to connect the young ones directly to God through liturgical life and contemplative prayer: “They must hunger day and night to be prayer souls; and they must discuss this among themselves”. At the same time, she would guide them to understand each other in their mutual dealings and the demands of community life. She was extremely demanding concerning fraternal union and leveling among all the sisters. Concerned about the formation of the whole person, she would insist on the external discipline in the community activities, during chores, in the daily visit to the sick, their personal bearing, while eating, in sleep…But she was extremely attentive in the detailed instruction of the correct execution of the liturgical celebrations and in the spirit in which they should participate in them.
She remained as master of novices for three trienniums, from 1614 to 1623. On this year she was appointed to the formation of the young postulants, which she held until she was elected Abbess in 1626. Later, in the foundation of Murcia, she added to the office of Abbess that of master of novices, per the community’s desire.
She possessed, in fact, an excellent gift for formation. She had no trouble gaining the trust of the young under her care, could identify with the nature and situation of each and every one of them, applying, when necessary, extraordinary means. She herself writes: “I especially loved those who were most afflicted by interior struggles and temptations, of which I knew personally because of the humility and clarity of conscience which they showed me, to my bewilderment”.
Maria Angela’s human stature
Physically, she was short. Her delicate features, her eyes’ peaceful gaze, her serious, even solemn, bearing, her sweet and quiet speech inflection, gave a total impression which demanded respect and trust at the same time. Added to that, the clarity and liveliness of her mental faculties, together with a perfect and feminine sense of detail and a sensibility that would allow her to live intensively each circumstance.
On her insistence, being a young shaper, his confessor, the priest Gil, left us a file of her temperament: “Naturally bright, vehement and very subtle”. And gave her the task of spiritualizing her nature, without curtailing or ignoring it. Thanks to the mandate of her
confessor since 1641, don Alexo de Boxados, we have the best spiritual self-portrait that can be desired. From it, we’ll take some features:
- Lord: my nature is choleric, phlegmatic, loving, grateful and correspondent, and so loyal that I will undergo any trial to keep loyal to those who put their faith in me.
- I also avoid those who are too cautious or have secondary intentions, and those who make a show of interior happenings, be it God’s gifts or trials.
- Extremely curious…and always need to be clean and neat like a lady.
- I possess a much discursive understanding of painful matters, and that is one of the greatest impediments that unsettle and disquiet my interior stillness.
- I want, and my nature yearns to be loved, but not to fight wills, but because I suffer much from heartbreak and ingratitude, looking for a closer union and effect on hearts.
- I extremely dislike dealing with people of ordinary knowledge, and presumptuous. And I delight in dealing with those of good sense in physical and spiritual matters, and, in what concerns my spirit, cultured, serious and saintly.
Among the human limitations, which she recognizes and laments, is fear. “All my life
I have been terrified by the dead”, she wrote in 1634. She also had an aversion to hellish representations. Another reflection of that apprehensive tendency was her fear of death and God’s judgement. She found solace in opening herself to the Word of God, which gave her back her internal serenity with the enlightenment that God timely communicated to her.
The sisters who testified in the informative process were very fluent in enumerating the positive features of the moral portrait of the venerated Mother, they especially insisted in her love for truth above any conventionalism or hypocrisy. They also praised the peacefulness of her always joyful countenance.
There was in her disposition a certain innate distinction, which would endear strangers, including her confessors. With them she would observe “subjection to a noble spirit”, and she would explain the motive: “I think that my soul gets this noble way from the same way that God treats it, because the nobility and softness that He fills me with are so great that I overflow with a reverent and humble nobility. And that is why I believe that whoever wants to influence me in a different way, would completely destroy me”.
The Breviary Mystic
The priests who came in contact with Maria Angela in Zaragoza and Murcia were intrigued by her charismatic knowledge of Sacred Scripture, the Holy Fathers and the Latin language. The Archbishop of Zaragoza decided it was his duty to designate five examiners to discover how far that phenomenon was “infused”, she was questioned in every way possible based on Latin quotations, and she answered by correctly indicating the book and chapter of the Bible or patristic writing where they were found. They were equally surprised when they were told that, in the work room, she would read to the nuns in Latin from the book Vitae Patrum– the lives of the wilderness fathers- translating and explaining it correctly. She would undergo a similar test later in Murcia from the Dean and a priest of that diocese.
The breviary was always the basis for her mystic ascents; Sacred Scripture would offer to her the most adequate expression of her intimate feelings, emerging under the influence of the contemplative light. Her piety was eminently liturgical. The verse of a psalm, the reading of a night prayer, a responsorial, an antiphon, were enough to transport her to the level of unitive experiences. This would not hinder her from following the advance of the prayer with absolute fidelity and to intervene at the point where any mistakes in the rubrics occurred.
She wrote in 1624: “It happens to me many times that when I’m singing the psalms, His Majesty lets me know, through internal communication, exactly what I’m singing, so I can truly say that I sing the internal words of my spirit and not the composition and verses of the psalms”. God himself became “teacher and orator of His Word”.
She liked to visualize the Church on earth and the one in heaven united in the same praising liturgy. On the Feast of the Guardian Angel in 1642 she experienced a “close relationship” with the angels and blessed and felt herself moved to issue a “challenge” to the inhabitants of the celestial Jerusalem: “As a member of the militant Church, I must sing the divine praises with a pure and joyful heart…and with them all make perfume for the Divine Providence, mingling them all to be placed in the gold censer of Christ’s Heart, my Lord”.
The convent’s choir was the privileged place for the encounter between God and myself. “My prayer is in it – she writes – and, for the most part, all my better endeavors, by night or day. It’s the place where I receive the most mercies…”.
In spite of the important role of the Divine Office in her spirituality, the real vital center was the Eucharistic mystery. She placed particular care in the active participation of the whole community in the Holy Mass. As Abbess, she obtained for all her nuns permission to receive daily communion.
“When His Majesty is alone with my soul”
The most splendid pages of Maria Angela’s spiritual beads are those in which she is trying to find a way of expressing what she experiments in those ineffable times of what she calls “closed interior silence”, “talking silence”, “intimate possession and interior sweetness”, “divine proximity…” It’s a quiet and joyful contemplation, in general, but sometimes impassioned.
When God wants to predispose her to a particular mercy, “her spirit’s mood is humble and soft”, which reflects on her senses. And this even happened during the day, no matter where she was. It was like “breathing in God” even in the middle of external occupations. Under that infused light, which surrounds and permeates her, she would feel herself “caught”, “stolen”, “possessed” by God, at the mercy of intimate happenings that enlightened and transformed her. Sometimes she received them as “extremely powerful speeches” which produced what they meant, because “God’s word is action”.
The starting point was always the ideas and feelings awakened in her soul by the liturgy of the day. Any Sunday of the year brought to life, for example, the “festive resurrection” of the Lord.
But not all are consoling and loving dispositions. Frequently she had to suffer the “ailment of absence”, when the Loved one distanced Himself. In 1636 she very expressively wrote: “The special presence and assistance of His Majesty, so sweet and familiar, turned into an absence and remoteness as big as, if it can be said, if He had moved to the Indies”.
Her external bearing, dignified and measured, and even her reverential faith in the liturgical celebrations, contrast with her intimate bearing, veritable spiritual infancy before God, who acts towards her “as dad”. Such attitude conforms to the “expansive and joyful climate”, or like she said, “vast spiritual freedom”, that is found in all her pages: a Franciscan aura of “internal cheerfulness”, fruit of the total emptiness of the self, when the soul is “its own mistress”.
Since 1627, Maria Angela had been ordered by her confessors “not to seek or admit to” her extraordinary mystic graces. She did her best not to abandon herself to the rapture, sometimes trying harder than it was desirable, especially during the recitation of the canonical hours and participation in the Mass. She was trapped within the vehement divine attraction and the will of the same God, who made Himself heard: “Obey and sing!” She would again feel the rapture, and once again that internal voice brought her back to herself: “Sing and obey”! Sometimes she was forced to hang on to her seat or the choir rail not to give in to the rapture.
That recurrent intensity caused her “a fainting heart”, which alarmed the doctors. It was an affliction of love.
It all started around 1620, when she was mistress of novices, with a “vision of an extremely beautiful heart, huge and extremely delicate…in the air, between heaven and earth…”. On one side was the Virgin with the Baby, and on the other side, San Francis of Assisi. “Just by looking at this Heart – she concluded – I was enslaved and captive”. And it left a permanent burning in her heart, with such a sensibility that any small touch would cause an insupportable pain. It was the mystic phenomenon of the bleeding heart that, as it happened to some other saints, was completed with the experience of the permutation of hearts. It was not a youthful impetus: in 1646 she still felt in her heart a “vehement fire, like when a grenade explodes, a burning that steamed up to the highest”.
Based on this experience appears her passionate love for the “eloquent Heart of Jesus”. And this, half a century before the apparitions to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque. “He’s my goal – she wrote -; I passionately love Him”. And she greets Him: “my incomparable treasure, all my wealth, my only certain hope in all I hope for, lucidity and sedation to my doubts, breath of my suffocation, intimate center of my soul, golden propitiatory of my spirit…, school and pontificate of the science and finesse of your immense mercy…”.
“What a treasure and joy to be a daughter of the church!”
In a century where catholic spirituality was developing almost marginally to the liturgy and in which, even theology, considered only the visible institution of the church, Maria Angela may be considered a true exception. It was her own mystic intuition, guided by the Word of God, which allowed her to live in an exceptional way the mystery of the Church.
She felt profoundly grateful to divine mercy for the benefit of being a daughter of the church, she experienced, even in a vision, the warmth of the maternal lap of the bride of Christ, attempted to form the nuns in the joyful awareness of being daughters of the church and the constant prayer for the needs of the church.
She felt united in a close kinship to all the faithful, whom she continuously referred to as “my brothers”; she herself felt maternal instincts toward all the redeemed: “Oh, if I could be a mother to all of them!”. She wanted to “place all of them in Christ’s Heart”. She shared the pain of the church for her alienated children: the bad Catholics, the heretical.
She didn’t know how to react to all that had been communicated to her through the church, especially the “mysteries” and the “truths” that the church proposed. This was the fundamental reason that moved her to passionately study Latin: “to understand the mysteries in the same language that our mother the church proposes them”. It was not only to docilely follow the magisterium of the church in faith, but to “hold and capture my judgement, to know and feel my mother the Roman Catholic Church”, even to the point of offering her life in her defense, if necessary.
She often meditated on Christ’s nuptial unity with the church, established by Him on the cross. It is the church who applies the fruits of the Blood of Christ. Maria Angela considered herself “incorporated within the profound wealth of the church” and viewed the convent she founded in Murcia united to the universal church, “a tree planted in the church’s estate”. She yearned for the day where there would only be one fold and one Shepherd, “only one people, pure and saintly, all from the real lineage of God”.
Irradiation through the convent’s fence
Maria Angela’s apostolic charity was equal to her burning love for her divine Spouse and her endearing solicitude for the sisters under her care. She felt “sister and mother of all the faithful”. From the enclosure of the monastery walls, she felt a burning desire to lavish herself to benefit all the redeemed. “Eternal God – she would pray – who inspires this love and interior craving in my spirit for the salvation of the faithful: Oh, if I could act in their hearts…! I would tell them that my sorrowful soul unravels because of their fears and anxiously awaits for them to get to know you, to cling to you, and to love you”.
She constantly employed the means within the reach of a contemplative religious: prayer, penitence, intensified love for the Lord to compensate for the offences and heartbreak caused him by humankind. However, she forgot that, like Jesus said, a lamp is not placed under a bushel, but where it will shine. Soon her superior gifts transcended the monastery walls: the sanctity of her life, her gift of counsel and even the exceptional efficacy of her intercession. She would have wanted to continue to be ignored in her cloistered confinement, but her confessors urged her not to negate the clamor for mercy. And she had to share her time with people from every social class who would seek her counsel, consolation and direction in their lives. Many men and women from prominent families were her veritable “spiritual children”, and eminent prelates who maintained spiritual communication with her, among them Cardinal Trivulzio, Aragon’s viceroy, the bishop of Albarracin don Jeronimo de Lanuza, the archbishop of Zaragoza Martinez de Peralta, the patriarch of the Occidental Indies Alonso Perez de Guzman.
Within this universal charity, Cataluña, “my beleaguered home”, like she referred to it, occupied a special place, especially when the war of the principality began in 1640. She suffered and prayed, having to accept the fathomless will of God in that tragedy whose cause she never understood. Some of that agony is revealed in what she wrote in 1646: “I wanted to pray for peace for the Christian kings and princes, but couldn’t. And His Majesty told me: Daughter, they are all one! And He allowed me to understand that they were sinning out of malice and persistence”.
“I cook myself to provide a tasty meal for all of them”
In 1626 Maria Angela had been elected Abbess with the necessary dispensation, since the canon stipulated forty years of age, and she was only thirty-three. She governed for two consecutive trienniums in Zaragoza, and later even two more trienniums with intervals of three years. When she was vicar she left to found Murcia; in this monastery she was Abbess until she suddenly resigned five years before her death. She led the community for a total of twenty-seven years.
She always believed that the first service that “the mother and servant” must perform for the sisters, according to the rule of saint Clare, was spiritual care. That is why she decided to “guide each one at the pace that God wants her to walk”, without “steering” all of them on the same lane. The sisters who had her as superior can only talk about her evangelical style of serving instead of governing: “She was the first to sweep, do dishes, wash the clothes, bring firewood”. “She was particularly prudent and gracious to move without displeasing”. “She was very balanced in the censure of defects, but in those cases of compulsory corrections, she would not be afraid to do it…sometimes with only one gesture or a look”. “She had the gift of counsel, giving the correct answer to the situation of each one…; the sisters were convinced that she could see inside them”. “She was much loved and venerated by all of them”. “She always consulted before acting, and was very docile to follow any just suggestion, even if it went against her wishes”.
She wrote about her disposition to dialogue, listen and value others’ opinion: “I just don’t bother with small things, and don’t mind when what is decided goes against what I wanted”. Scattered through her writings are found precious traces of her feelings as community guide: “I consider myself unworthy to be among the servants of God”. “My rule is to suffer in silence, and carry the weight of government matters as a servant of the house of God”. “I pay attention to the condition and nature of my nuns, even if I’m inconvenienced”, “My adjusting to every nature and condition is without a doubt the work of grace which God gives me so that I may continue even when they are bitter to my nature and condition; but through them I conquer my soul”. “The office of prelate gives me many occasions to die to myself and give my life to my divine Lord in sacrifice, because I cook myself to be palatable food for all of them”. “I venerate in my nuns the hidden sainthood that God has infused in their souls”.
Among the services she provided to the community of Zaragoza it must be mentioned the construction of the new convent, thanks to the good help received from a benefactor priest.
Another of her important initiatives was the revision of the Constitutions, improving on the Barcelona texts, “on the consent of all the nuns, after a mature consideration”. They were approved by Urban VIII in 1627. Up to thirteen monasteries stemming from the Zaragoza monastery or related to it would follow those Constitutions along the way.
Foundation of Murcia
For many years Maria Angela had been wanting to found another monastery, if at all possible in Cataluña. In 1640 his new confessor, don Antonio Boxados, endorsed the project, when he was in Madrid handling the adjudication of the Murcia inquirer. If he succeeded, he would be in charge of the founding of a capuchinas convent in that city. After overcoming the difficulties, the royal decree of December 3rd, 1644 authorized the construction of the Exaltation of the Blessed Sacrament monastery.
On June 9th, 1645 Maria Angela left Zaragoza with four nuns. After a trip full of up and downs they arrived at their destination on the 28th of the same month. The following day, the feast of St. Peter, was the solemn inauguration of the monastery and they were cloistered.
The first concern of the foundress was to correctly steer the new community, especially in the formation of the good number of young women who came in.
They had many challenges. The first one was the great plague of 1648; the city was decimated; there were more than 24000 victims in the region. The infection affected the community, but thanks to the confident and insistent prayers of the saintly Abbess, none of the nuns died. But they did lament the passing of one of the donors added to the convent.
The other challenge, even more painful, was the flood of October 14, 1651, the worst ever on the Murcia records. More than two hundred buildings were destroyed and there were more than two thousand dead. The capuchinas convent was on the higher part of the center of the city, but it didn’t help. Since the waters had covered the church and everything on the lower level, and continued rising, they decided to abandon the cloister, plunging in with the sacramental species to move to the adjacent school of the Company. They were still at the doors of the school when they heard the boom of the convent’s church coming down, and everything in the church and the sacristy was lost.
They spent thirteen months in a summer residence that the Jesuits generously lent them in the mountain of Las Ermitas. Their convent was still in very bad condition. And when they were planning the remodeling, a second flood on Novenber 7th, 1653, forced them to return to Las Ermitas.
Even worse than these misfortunes was the vile calumny brought to the bishop on the saintly abbess and the nuns by a tramp; it all ended with the retraction of the ill-advised woman and the recognition of the innocence of the maligned nuns.
In the meanwhile, the remodeling of the convent was reactivated and on November 22nd, 1654 the community was able to return to it permanently.
The last heroic alienation…and eternal union
Maria Angela’s interior life, during all this time, kept deepening more and more, through purifications and sorrows, towards complete transformation in love. Her contemplation grew even more explicitly biblical and liturgical. She continued to meditate with a compassionate love on the passion of the Lord, but then her meditation was less subject to sensibility, and more attentive to the “mental pains” of the Redeemer. She felt attracted to Love with a new intensity. “I want to be the most refined lover He has ever had”, she wrote in 1650. For that same reason, “the absences and solitude of the loving God” are more grievous.
She constantly felt the unitive presence, with the “complete emptiness of herself”, which she also called “real spiritual poverty”, renouncing even to the mercies the Lord gave her to live in just pure love.
Her “spiritual sense” became more “subtle”, as she said, and deeper. Any external circumstance – a little bird singing, a devote poem, above all a place in scripture or a faith truth- arose in her “internal novelty and divine sighs”. She felt “bits” of eternal union and desired more ardently for the “security of the eternal Jerusalem”. “I feel a bareness from everything– she wrote – which are an apparent mockery; and I am among them on tiptoes. Oh, my Lord, when will the day and the moment come! Poor me, that my exile is getting longer! (Ps 119,5)”.
Since 1654 she had suffered ailments that had the nuns worried, and in 1661 she rapidly lost her energy and faculties and was reduced to a childhood state, incomprehensible to all those who had known her for the clarity of her mind and her spirit. She did have enough sense to understand that in that situation she should not continue to govern the community. She gathered the chapter and had them elect her successor.
“Incapacitated for the temporal, but with a wealth of knowledge about the divine”, that’s how the nuns saw her during those years. It was natural that all attributed her decline to senility, maybe premature. But how surprised and moved were the sisters and all those who knew her when, after her death, among her papers, was found a prayer she had written in 1661, when she still had all her faculties, in which she begged the Lord for the grace of “being inept on the outside, for worldly things, without the office of prelate, so that nothing would impede her to be always in the divine presence on the inside, praising and glorifying Him”.
On November 21st, 1665 she suffered a hemiplegia attack. At the same time, she regained all her mental faculties. She confessed with the lucidity of her best years. She received the Viaticum and became ecstatic for a long time. She peacefully expired on December 2nd, 1665, after singing, with the little voice she had left, the Pange lingua with her spiritual daughters who couldn’t contain their grief. She was 73 years old.
The whole city of Murcia gathered to venerate the body of the one they all proclaimed a saint. And the miracles through her intercession began to multiply. In 1668, barely two years after her death, the diocesan informative process was initiated towards beatification. Adverse circumstances delayed the apostolic process. Finally, on September 29th, 1850, she was canonically given the title of Venerable.