Translated from the manuscript copy in the Vatican Secret Archives
TESTAMENTO DELLA MADRE SUOR ANGELA LASSATO ALLE MATRONE TESTAMENT OF MOTHER SISTER ANGELA BEQUEATHED TO THE LADY-GOVERNORS [Prologue]
1 Sister Angela, unworthy servant of Jesus Christ,
2 to Countess Lady Lucrecia, principal mother of the Company of Saint Ursula, and to the other lady-governors and mothers, the noble matrons, Lady Genepra di Luciagi, Lady Maria di Avogadri, Lady Veronica di Bucci, Lady Orsolina di Gavardi, Lady Giovanna di Monti, Lady Isabetta da Prato, Lady Lionella di Pedeciocchi, Lady Caterina di Mei.
3 May the eternal benediction be on you all, granted by Almighty God in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
4 My honourable sisters and mothers most loving in the Blood of Jesus Christ, God willing
5 in his eternal wisdom to call forth from the vanity of the world many women, especially virgins, that is, this our Company,
6 and being pleased in his infinite goodness to use me as his instrument for this great work of his,
7 even though for my part I am a most inadequate and useless servant, 8 he has also, in his usual goodness, given and granted me such grace and gift as to be able to govern them according to his will,
9 and to provide for their needs and wants, especially those concerned with directing them and sustaining them in the life for which they have been chosen.
10 And among the good and necessary means that God has granted me, you are one of the most important,
11 you, who are found worthy to be true and loving mothers of so noble a family,
12 confided to your hands
13 that you may have for them the same care and guardianship you would have if they had been born from your own body, and even more.
14 Now, on this point I would, a little, like you to open the eye of your mind to consider your great grace and good fortune,
15 that God has deigned to make you mothers of so many virgins,
16 and confided his own spouses to your hands, and entrusted them to your government.
17 Oh, how much you have to thank him for this,
18 and at the same time to pray to him,
19 that as he has deigned to place you at the head of so noble a flock,
20 so he would deign also to give you such knowledge and capacity that you may be able to do work worthy of praise in his sight,
21 and to put all your zeal and strength into carrying out your duty.
22 Therefore you must make a sound and firm resolu-tion to submit yourselves totally to his will,
23 and with a lively and steadfast faith to receive from him what you have to do for
love of him.
24 And in this (whatever may happen) to persevere with constancy to the very end.
25 But above all, I ask and entreat you all, by the Passion and Blood of Jesus Christ shed for love of us,
26 to willingly put into practice with every solicitude these few reminders
27 which, by the grace of God, you will find here, set out below one after the other.
28 Because as I am now about to let go of this life,
29 leaving you in my place as my heirs,
30) these recommendations will be to you like legacies which, as my greatest desire, I leave you to carry out faithfully.
We know that in 1535 Angela chose the feast of St. Catherine, November 25, to mark the official foundation of her company. She chose St. Ursula as patroness and gathered her daughters at the Oratory where they met regularly. They assisted at Mass together, then in turn, each signed her name in the ‘Book of the Company’, a commitment which was the equivalent to a solemn promise of fidelity; and so with minimum ceremony the first members of the Company of St. Ursula gave themselves to God: the Company was formed.
The fact that Angela had chosen November 25 for the foundation day had a clear meaning for her daughters. St. Catherine was a consecrated virgin of the primitive church and a saint to whom the Divine Child had given the ring of mystic espousal . The Madre, as Angela was called, always looked on her daughters as spouses of Christ, the very expression occurs again and again in her writings.
St. Catherine lived at the beginning of the fourth century, in the time of Emperor Maxentius. Of royal blood she was a lady of stunning beauty, considerable wealth and of first rate education. She sought counsel from a wise and saintly ascetic Christian and was converted to the faith. On the night of her baptism she dreamt of Mary and the Christ Child. Christ said: ‘She is now worthy and I accept her as my bride.’ Christ then placed ring on her hand, saying, ‘Today I take thee as my bride, for all eternity.’
Shortly after that the emperor demanded that the people of Alexandria show their loyalty to the state through their devotion to the old gods. Catherine refused. She was attached to a huge wheel edged with sharp blades but it fell apart before it could do harm. Finally, she was beheaded, but before she died she said:
‘Do not grieve, but rather be joyous for I go now to meet my Saviour, my Creator, my bridegroom, Jesus Christ.’
Angela called her Company after St. Ursula whose story she would have heard read to her by her father. Legend tells us that in Breton in ancient times a beautiful baby girl was born to a king and queen. They called her Ursula (Ursus in Latin means bear) believing that one day she would strangle the devil, as David had done once with the bear. The barbarian, pagan King of England, asked Ursula, a Breton princess, daughter of Deonotus, in marriage for his son, Etherius. Deeply longing for spiritual marriage to Christ she accepted the proposal only on certain conditions. She wished that the wedding be postponed for three years, during which she could go on pilgrimage to Rome. Etherius’s father as to provide an escort of ten maidens and each of these as well as herself were to be given another thousand virgins as companions! Eleven ships were to be built to take them safely to the continent and while they were on their travels the future bridegroom was to be instructed in the Christian faith and to be baptised. The King was willing to accept these conditions. The names that have been ascribed to the maidens are: Martha, Saula, Brictola, Gregoria, Saturna, Sabatia, Pinnosa, Ursula, Sentia, Palladia, and Saturia. Together the journeyed through Cologne and Basle from where they continued over the Alps on foot to Rome. There they received the blessing of Pope Cyriacus. He was enchanted by the strange group of solemn maidens and decided give them his protection and to accompany them on their way back. Just outside Cologne on the return journey the Huns attacked the travellers. Armed with arrows, spears and swords the soldiers harassed the retinue. Attila remarked Ursula’s extreme beauty and offered to spare her life if she became his wife. She repulsed his advances and was then executed savagely with her companions in a horrific massacre.
Angela’s close friend GABRIELE COZZANO writes about the influence of Ursula on Angela’s chocie of name and patron for her Company:
‘And so believe, let every one of you believe – and she will believe the truth- that she (Angela) did not give this name to the Company by chance… I repeat, this Company has not be named for … frivolous reasons. But this name has come from heaven, introduced through the force and power of the Holy Spirit. In this name a new grace from the most high is promised to everyone who perseveres faithfully in this obedience. Promised also is that virtue of sanctity which was given to those eleven thousand virgins who obeyed Ursula’s will, or rather God’s voice through her, that virtue through which they overcame themselves and conquered death.’