According to Herbert Thurston, "The history of the Angelus is by no means easy to trace with confidence, and it is well to distinguish in this matter between what is certain and what is in some measure conjectural." This is an old devotion that was already well established 700 years ago. The Angelus originated with the 11th-century monastic custom of reciting three Hail Marys during the evening, or Compline, bell. The first written documentation stems from the Italian Franciscan monk Sinigardi di Arezzo (died 1282). Franciscan monasteries in Italy document the use in 1263 and 1295. The current form of the Angelus prayer is included in a Venetian Catechism from 1560. The older usages seem to have commemorated the resurrection of Christ in the morning, his suffering at noon, and the annunciation in the evening. In 1269, St Bonaventure urged the faithful to adopt the custom of the Franciscans of saying three Hail Marys as the Compline bell was rung.
The Angelus is not identical to the "Noon Bell" ordered by Pope Calixtus III (1455–58) in 1456, who asked for a long midday bell-ringing and prayer for protection against the Turkish invasions of his time. In his 1956 Apostolic Letter Dum Maerenti Animo about the persecution of the Catholic church in Eastern Europe and China, Pope Pius XII recalls the 500th anniversary of the "Noon Bell", a prayer crusade ordered by his predecessors against what they considered to be dangers from the East. He again asks the faithful throughout the world, to pray for the persecuted Church in the East during the mid-day Angelus.
The custom of reciting it in the morning apparently grew from the monastic custom of saying three Hail Marys while a bell rang at Prime. The noon time custom apparently arose from the noon time commemoration of the Passion on Fridays. The institution of the Angelus is by some ascribed to Pope Urban II, by some to Pope John XXII in the year 1317. The triple recitation is ascribed to Louis XI of France, who in 1472 ordered it to be recited three times daily. The form of the prayer was standardized by the 17th century.
The manner of ringing the Angelus—the triple stroke repeated three times, with a pause between each set of three (a total of nine strokes), sometimes followed by a longer peal as at curfew—seems to have been long established. The 15th-century constitutions of Syon monastery dictate that the lay brother "shall toll the Ave bell nine strokes at three times, keeping the space of one Pater and Ave between each three tollings". The pattern of ringing on Irish radio and television consists of three groups of three peals, each group separated by a pause, followed by a group of nine peals, for a total of eighteen rings.
In his Apostolic Letter Marialis Cultus (1974), Pope Paul VI encouraged the praying of the Angelus considering it important and a reminder to faithful Catholics of the Paschal Mystery, in which by recalling the incarnation of the son of God they pray that they may be led "through his passion and cross to the glory of his resurrection."