By Lewis Williams © 2002.
Angela was born in Brescia, Northern Italy, in 1474, in a time of strife and famine. She was left an orphan at the age of 15. She gave up her patrimony and joined the Franciscan Tertiaries in order to live in poverty. In 1535, she founded a religious institute under the patronage of St. Ursula (Ursulines), which consisted of devout laity, members of nobility and persons of a humble station in life. She wanted them to be consecrated to God and dedicated to the service of their neighbor, but remain in the world and live a celibate life in their own homes. She thus anticipated the secular institutes that have flourished in modern times.
When she died in Brescia on January 27, 1540, there were some 24 branches of the Company of St. Ursula serving the Church. She was not canonized until 1807, largely because her ideas were considered too progressive. In fact, in 1566, more than 25 years after her death, the cloister and choral Office were imposed on the Ursulines, and they were required to wear a religious habit.
In this iconic image, the ladder represents a vision she had of heaven opening and angels traveling between heaven and earth. She believed one of the angels was her deceased sister, who instructed her to found a company of women to help educate poor girls. St. Angela holds an arrow which is the symbol for St. Ursula's martyrdom. The grapes are symbolic of the eucharistic blood of Christ and also of her family's vineyard. Even more it symbolizes the cluster of women she drew together in such a unique and progressive way. Lake Garda is the setting.