Olympia Morata (1526-1555) was without doubt a woman full of potential, even from her earliest years. As a brilliant young scholar with a passion for knowledge and an immense capacity to learn, she held the opportunity for an illustrious career in the palms of her hands. However, Olympia’s legacy lay not in her contributions to any field of academic study, nor in the power and fame she easily could have attained through her work. Rather, she lived, worked, and endured persecution for a goal that she considered to be far greater than any recognition of men—her faith in her savior. Simonetta Carr’s novel Weight of a Flame: The Passion of Olympia Morata recounts the story of this godly woman and her growth from a young girl brimming with an eagerness for knowledge to a mature adult striving for the sake of the gospel. As part of the Chosen Daughters series, this novel is intended for an audience primarily comprised of young girls, but Olympia’s riveting story and inspiring example is beneficial for any Christian to read.
The novel begins with Olympia’s early teenage years just before she leaves her home to work as a tutor in the court of the Duke of Ferrara. While employed there, Olympia is exposed to a wealth of learning and opportunities, and at this time her highest goal is to attain academic excellence and recognition. The plight of the Protestant faith, both in her native Italy and throughout Europe, is well known to Olympia, as her family and members of the court constantly fear for their safety due to their beliefs. However, the young teenager doesn’t place great importance on the issue at first. She questions her faith and is full of doubts, but she doesn’t seek advice or help with her struggles because her academic pursuits are her first priority.
At this point, Carr masterfully communicates the transition in Olympia’s character that grants this novel its power. After serving the court for many years and growing in academic knowledge, Olympia suffers two losses: the death of her father and the end of her position in the court. The first tragedy brings her faith to the forefront of her mind, as her devout father was always an inspiration to Olympia. However, it is the second event that causes a turning point in the young woman’s life. Without a position in the powerful court and a budding reputation as a brilliant scholar, Olympia is stripped of the earthly power that made her feel secure in the world. She is forced to realize that truly, the accomplishments of men are merely temporal and can be snatched away in a second. It is here that Olympia finally relinquishes her pride, her abilities, and her service, taking them away from focusing on worldly pursuits and instead dedicating her life to the glory of God.
After this turning point, Olympia’s example is even more inspiring. She continues to write and work diligently over academic activities, but now her first priority is using her talents for the benefit of the faith she confesses. The rich history of this time period is explored as Olympia and her husband, Andreas Grunthler, endure persecution, war, and sickness in their struggle to survive the harsh anti-Protestant climate that engulfed most of Europe. Sadly, Olympia died from the lingering results of a fever acquired during wartime; she was not quite twenty-nine at the time of her death.
At first, it may sadden the reader to realize that, due to Olympia’s brief life, she was never able to impact the world around her to a greater extent through her prodigious learning and academic abilities. However, thanks to Carr’s beautiful portrayal of Olympia’s spiritual dedication and maturity, the reader is reminded that Olympia’s true legacy is far greater than any written work or course of study. Her brief but shining example of godliness and devotion to her faith is more inspiring than all the temporal achievements and accolades of a long and prolific life. Carr’s novel is intended to share Olympia’s story with young girls, but the lessons contained in this tale are ones that would benefit a Christian of any age. Olympia Morata is a powerful example of the importance of dedicating one’s ambitions, talents, and life to God, and striving not for glory here on earth, but desiring ultimately “to live in that heavenly home in which it is more pleasant to dwell for one short day than it is to spend a thousand years in the courts of princes” (141).
Madeline Taylor is a member of Christ United Reformed Church in Santee, CA.