26 October 2021

A Light Shines in Darkness, by Elizabeth M Hurst

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Perugia, the Papal States, 1375: Noblewoman Angelina Angioballi has sworn a vow of chastity, to continue serving the poor and avoid a loveless political marriage that is the plight of other women in her life.

I first learned about Angelina di Marsciano during a writing retreat in Umbria, Italy. We were at a wine-tasting event at the nearby Castel di Montegiove. A little way into the tour, the owner mentioned that the castle was the birthplace of ‘Beata’ or Blessed Angelina, and that she had founded an order of chaste, lay religious women who cared for the sick and gave bread to the poor within their community. 

He made one tiny, passing comment about the fact that she had educated girls who didn’t want to marry... and that was it: I was fascinated. Unfortunately, I found little online that told me anything about her – just a single book, written by a modern-day nun who is a member of the order founded by Angelina. As this nun is at pains to point out, nothing was written about Angelina until at least two hundred years after her death; that information which can be found is scant and contradictory.
As a novelist, this is both good and bad. Good, because it means you can allow your imagination to tell your story without the restrictions of the facts; bad because there is so much you don’t know, yet you want to remain historically accurate in your representation of the setting of the book and the events that took place.

The answer became clear, eventually. I would research as much as possible for the setting and events, and the plot would be entirely my own invention. So that’s what I did.

I have visited Italy a number of times over the years, so I felt able to describe the landscape, the flora and fauna and the climate without too much difficulty. Learning about life as the youngest child in a pious, medieval noble family in the 14th century was a bigger challenge, and a little daunting, but not insurmountable. Even so, I feel there must have been a couple of things I have got wrong!

Something I really want to get across was the idea that marriage for a fifteen-year-old girl in Angelina’s position was entirely normal. Life expectancy was lower in those days; many people didn’t live beyond middle age, especially the poor. In noble families, once a girl reached sexual maturity, she was expected to marry and produce heirs to secure the family’s wealth and status. 

Marriages were arranged with neighbouring noble families, cementing a relationship between the two houses and creating valuable political allies. The idea of love was not even considered. Neither was the girl’s consent.

It is believed that Angelina took a vow of chastity aged twelve, so this gave me great opportunity to show she has a reason for fighting against the wishes of her family to marry. Although, eventually, she does go through with the wedding to Giovanni di Terni – out of obedient duty and respect towards her family rather than affection for her intended, it must be said.

What happens after that, I doubt any of the characters would have predicted...

Elizabeth M Hurst

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About the Author

Elizabeth M Hurst was born and bred in the picturesque harbour town of Whitehaven in the northwest of England, where the long, wet winters moulded her into a voracious reader of fiction to escape the dismal weather. Having started writing around the age of 40, she later set about creating a freelance editing and proofreading business, EMH Editorial Services. In 2018, she quit the corporate world and concentrated her energy towards her love of the written word. Elizabeth now lives with her partner in the warm and sunny south of France. Find out more at her website https://elizabethhurstauthor.com/ and find Elizabeth on Facebook and Twitter @LizHurstAuthor

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