Diana degli Andalò - Another Lady Di

2017-06-01 L’Osservatore Romano

Diana degli Andalò belonged to the Carbonesi, a noble family of Bologna. A few centuries later, in the 18th century, in the collection he dedicated to Italian figures the writer Ludovico Antonio Muratori described her in these words: “Diana was a little girl born into a noble family well-known to the people of Bologna for its nobility, its wealth and its proven honesty in government; her relatives not only held the magistracies of the main cities in Italy because of their quality and their ability to govern, but they were in the habit of passing on the glory reflected from their most illustrious forebears so that Diana’s father himself was a senator in Milan, in Piacenza and in Genoa”.

Of a free and enterprising spirit, Diana met the Friars Preachers or Dominicans at the age of 17 when Fra Reginald of Orleans arrived in Bologna in 1218 to preach, an office exclusively reserved to bishops who, however, readily neglected it for other occupations. Diana was captivated by the words of Reginald, a friar who taught law in Paris and in Bologna, and asked him to deepen his breath of fresh air; Diana developed such a passion for this “new” ideal that she decided to help the nascent movement of Dominican friars, sparing no efforts to obtain the right to build a new convent on property belonging to her father. Her father initially refused; then, thanks to his daughter’s intercession, he granted his permission, something which not even Cardinal Ugolino had succeeded in obtaining. At this point Domenico de Guzmán, the new movement’s founder himself, entered the scene: the chronicle of the Monastery of Sant’Agnese says: “then when St Dominic reached Bologna, she [Diana] became very fond of him and would often converse with him, speaking of the salvation of her soul. After a short time she made her first vows in the presence of St Dominic and of Professor Reginald and other friars”.

Her true and proper entry into religious life was certainly far from easy since at first her family were so set against it that when Diana tried to enter the Monastery of the Trinità di Ronzano they went to fetch her home. In the end, however, they gave in and the young woman succeeded in settling in this same monastery until Jordan of Saxony, successor of St Dominic at the helm of the young order, persuaded Diana to undertake monastic life in the Monastery of Sant’Agnese in the city of Bologna itself.

Throughout the period of his mandate as Master, Jordan of Saxony regularly sent her letters full of spiritual teachings, imbued with moderation and affectionate friendship. In a letter he sent her in the summer of 1229 he had to encourage her, assuring her that the measure taken at the General Chapter held in Paris in 1228 would not affect the life of the Sisters of the Monastery of Sant’Agnese. This measure provided that: “from now on no [friar] should tonsure a woman, confer on her the religious habit or receive her religious profession”. Diana’s legitimate concern received an official answer from Jordan who dispelled all her apprehensions once and for all.

In his correspondence (about 50 letters) Jordan of Saxony addressed Diana in extremely friendly and affectionate, yet always respectful, terms. It suffices to read one of the variations in the opening salutation: “Fra Jordan, useless servant of the Order of Preachers, wishes good health to Diana, a sister in the same spiritual Father and most beloved daughter, given to him by the Father of all mankind”.

Diana was a sister in the order, a spiritual daughter – because she was entrusted to Jordan by Dominic – and above all a friend. The affection that bound them is constitutes a way to understand clearly how consecrated life may include true love and purity of spirit. Unfortunately Diana’s answers have not survived. We have imagined one here:

Fresco in the Church of the Hermitage of Ronzano, Bologna

“Sister Diana degli Andalò, sister in the Holy Father Dominic, to my beloved brother Jordan, your words reach me as a gift of God, a consolation to the soul, a light in the night, especially at those moments when I groan, thinking of you crossing Lombardy on foot and then on your long journeys to Paris. You tell me that my presence would comfort you, but you know that for my part your absence causes me such suffering that the only thing that soothes me is your constant thought in Christ.

In your last letter you wrote to me that you had twice had a temperature and that the doctors had informed you of this latest inevitable bout of quartan fever; I hope, my dear Fra Jordan, that you have now been able to recover your health so precious to the preacher who passes on with the proper vehemence the Word of God made flesh.

Your last missive concerning the dispositions of the General Chapter in Paris last year was of great spiritual help to me, as well as being extremely useful for understanding what was happening in the Order that Dominic has wisely succeeded in forming. The information that reached us did not promise anything reassuring to us nuns of the Monastery of Sant’Agnese. How could it have been possible to guarantee continuation if the Friars were not able to accept the young Sisters? For all the Sisters your explanation and your intercession with the Provincial of Lombardy have been a touch of the grace of Our Saviour Jesus Christ. Just as Dominic taught me, divine grace is also manifest through the common decisions of General Chapters. However this does not mean that an understanding of the decisions taken in common is not sometimes difficult.

Dearest father and brother and friend in Christ, my dear Jordan, our mission is to see all things in divine depth, something we cannot achieve unless we live like the preacher of grace, our father Dominic, he who did nothing other than ‘speak of God or to God. Fra Jordan, friend and brother, I greet you with the holy kiss’”. 

Alberto Fabio Ambrosio