Clare of Assisi
|Saint Clare of Assisi|
Detail depicting Saint Clare from a fresco(1312–20) by Simone Martini in the Lower basilica of San Francesco, Assisi.
|Born||July 16, 1194
|Died||August 11, 1253 (aged 59)
|Honored in||Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Communion, Lutheran Church|
|Canonized||September 26, 1255, Rome byPope Alexander IV|
|Majorshrine||Basilica of Saint Clare, Assisi|
|Feast||August 11 (1970 calendar), August 12 (1962 calendar)|
|Attributes||Monstrance, pyx, lamp, habit of the Poor Clares|
|Patronage||Eye disease, goldsmiths, laundry,embroiderers, gilders, good weather, needleworkers, Santa Clara Pueblo, telephones,telegraphs, television|
Clare of Assisi (sometimes spelled Clair, Claire, etc.) (July 16, 1194 – August 11, 1253), born Chiara Offreduccio, is an Italian saint and one of the first followers of Saint Francis of Assisi. She founded the Order of Poor Ladies, a monastic religious order for women in theFranciscan tradition, and wrote their Rule of Life—the first monastic rule known to have been written by a woman. Following her death, the order she founded was renamed in her honor as the Order of Saint Clare, commonly referred to today as the Poor Clares.
Clare was born in Assisi, Italy as the eldest daughter of Favorino Scifi, Count of Sasso-Rosso and his wife Ortolana. Ortolana was a very devout woman who had undertaken pilgrimages to Rome, Santiago de Compostela and the Holy Land. Later on in her life, Ortolana entered Clare’s monastery, together with Agnes, Clare’s sister.
Clare’s parents decided she would marry a wealthy young man. In desperation Clare escaped her home and, on March 20, 1212, sought refuge with Francis, who received her into religious life.
Clare lived for a brief period in a nearby Benedictine monastery of nuns, San Paolo delle Abadesse, and then again for a short period at a house of female penitents, Sant’Angelo in Panza on Monte Subasio.
Clare and her sister Agnes soon moved to the church of San Damiano, which Francis himself had rebuilt. Other women joined them there, and San Damiano became known for its radically austere lifestyle. The women were at first known as the “Poor Ladies”.
San Damiano became the focal point for Clare’s new religious order, which was known in her lifetime as the “Order of San Damiano.” San Damiano was long thought to be the first house of this order, however, recent scholarship strongly suggests that San Damiano actually joined an existing network of women’s religious houses organized by Hugolino (who later became Pope Gregory IX). Hugolino wanted San Damiano as part of the order he founded because of the prestige of Clare’s monastery. San Damiano emerged as the most important house in the order, and Clare became its undisputed leader. By 1263, just ten years after Clare’s death, the order became known as theOrder of Saint Clare.
Saint Clare miraculously intervenes to save a child from a wolf, in this panel by Giovanni di Paolo, 1455.
Unlike the Franciscan friars, whose members moved around the country to preach, Saint Clare’s sisters lived in enclosure, since an itinerant life was hardly conceivable at the time for women. Their life consisted of manual labour and prayer.
For a short period of time the order was directed by Francis himself. Then in 1216, Clare accepted the role of abbess of San Damiano. As abbess, Clare had more authority to lead the order than when she was the prioress, who had to follow the orders of a priest heading the community. Clare defended her order from the attempts of prelates to impose a rule on them that more closely resembled the Rule of St Benedict than Francis’ stricter vows. Clare sought to imitate Francis’ virtues and way of life so much so that she was sometimes titled alter Franciscus, another Francis. She also played a significant role in encouraging and aiding Francis, whom she saw as a spiritual father figure, and she took care of him during his illnesses at the end of his life, until his death in 1226.
After Francis’s death, Clare continued to promote the growth of her order, writing letters to abbesses in other parts of Europe and thwarting every attempt by each successive pope to impose a Rule on her order which watered down the radical commitment tocorporate poverty she had originally embraced. She did this despite the fact that she had endured a long period of poor health until her death. Clare’s Franciscan theology of joyous poverty in imitation of Christ is evident in the Rule she wrote for her community and in her four letters to Agnes of Prague.