"I long to fade away,
so great is my confidence in Christ,
and to be with him in whom my life thrives."
~ Last Poem of Olympia Morata, Prior to her death
Who is Olympia Morata?
Olympia Morata (1526 - October 26, 1555) was a scholar, poetess, tutor, and hymn writer during the Italian Renaissance and Reformation. Her faith in God sustained her during a dark and dangerous time in religious history.
Interesting facts about her life:
- Her father, a scholar, recognized intelligence in his oldest daughter and raised her as a classial scholar. By the age of 12, she was able to converse fluently in Greek and Latin and began translating important works and performing dissertations in front of the elite.
- She was invited to tutor the princess Anna in the Court of Duke Ercole II in Italy. Her abilities were already widely known which made her a great ornament in the Court at Ferrara where friction was growing between the opposing religious beliefs of the Duke and Duchess. Duchess Renee harbored and invited many reformers to the Court (in which John Calvin was a visitor) due to her Protestant stand while her husband sympathized with Rome in order to maintain peace and power in his duchy.
- In 1547, Olympia's father became ill and she returned home. After he died (being a passionate convert to Protestantism), she began educating her brothers and sisters and was responsible for the well being of her family.
- She attempted to return to Court in hopes of providing for her family, but was denied for reasons that were unclear, though somehow related to rumors and reform. Now, at the age of 22, she felt completely abandoned. One friend stood by her side, the godly Lavinia della Rovere ( a noblewoman). Together they discussed life and the Scriptures. God was nudging her closer to Him and she began her own personal religious journey at this point in her frazzled life.
- It proved a blessing that she was released from service of the Court for later she was able to reflect that, "I am glad for all that has happened to me, for if I had lingered any longer in that court, it would have been the end for me and my salvation.”
- In 1549/1550, Olympia married Andreas Gunthler who was a poet, musician and doctor (who also shared her faith). She embraced the role of wife and was truly a woman in love. Her letters show deep feelings for her husband as they shared a close relationship and bond to their dying days.
- Because of their Protestant beliefs, they were in great danger in Italy who was persecuting those who went against the church of Rome. The beginning of their marriage started with a 500 mile pilgrimage to Germany for safety only to find more danger! The city they chose to settle in was seized during a war for over a year and at times they were forced to take refuge and live in their cellar. Famines and plagues followed this dark time in that city and Andreas her husband almost lost his life to the pestilence. When the city was finally released by the warring parties, the victory turned sour as the soldiers began burning down the town. Olympia and her husband managed to escape during this enemy raid only to find out that Protestants weren't accepted in the nearby cities and therefore they were arrested and put in prison to die!
- She wrote “Among the refugees I looked like the queen of the beggars. I entered the town with bare feet, unkept hair, torn clothes (which weren’t even mine but had been loaned me by some woman). I was so exhausted from the journey that I developed a fever, which I could not get rid of in all my wanderings.”
- They finally found refuge in after being released from jail due to mediations on behalf of friends and of course, the Providence of God! They began to rebuild their life together but her health had never recovered.
- During all this time, she had tutored various students in her home of prominent people along with her eight year old brother whom she brought out of Italy to raise for her widowed mother.
- She translated seven psalms in proper meter into Greek which her husband set to music allowing many Europeans to sing the same psalms together from any country. She also wrote poetry and letters to fellow women urging them to help support the reformers wherever she had influence. Sadly, most of her poetic work was destroyed in the fire during the siege.
- At the age of 29, her last words to her husband were: "I saw, in my sleep, a place full of the clearest and most beautiful light. I am totally happy. I can barely make you out anymore, but everything else seems to me to be full of the most beautiful flowers."
- Her epitaph described her “a woman whose genius and singular knowledge of both languages (Latin and Greek), whose probity in morals and highest zeal for piety were always held above the common level.”
Source 1, Source 2
What is beautiful in the life of Olympia Morata was the fact that you can see the hand of God bringing her closer to Him in her life. She was brought up as a child prodigy, was given all her wants at the Court of Ferrara and was highly esteemed in all the right circles. But her father's sickness brought her home, she was then released from the court by the Duchy and malicious rumors humbled her reputation. She felt abandoned! It was at this time in her life that she realized she was not alone. She found strength in the promises of the Scriptures. She found true wisdom, the fear of the Lord! And by the time she was forced to leave her homeland, lived under siege, lost her home and goods to a fire, became a refugee and lost her health, it was her faith in Christ that sustained her and no longer the works of classical philosophers. Thus, she used her talents to serve Him and loved Him until her last breath. Would there have been the same outcome had life gone as "she" had planned?
Weight of a Flame: The Passion of Olympia Morata (Chosen Daughters Series) by Simonetta Carr
This is an excellent historical fiction book, (based on fact) that girls 13 and up would benefit from. I found it to be very educational, well researched and her life extremely interesting. Many famous figures of history are woven into this story of 16th Century Europe. (Please keep in mind that she was raised with her calling being to the pen and not the embroidery needle, symbolizing the domestic arts, and there is some reference to this in the book on pages 40 and 41.)