Saint Clare of Assisi

Favarone and Ortulana, Clare's parents, were of the noble class in Assisi. Their intergenerational residence in the upper part of the town was adjacent to the Cathedral of San Rufino. When Clare was a small child, the political situation in Assisi became so dangerous for the women and children of the noble class that they fled to nearby Perugia. The merchant class of Assisi was forcing its way into power, thus crippling the feudal system. New city-states began forming throughout Italy. During the first decade of the thirteenth century, the social order in Assisi stabilized enough for the young Clare to return to the city with her mother and her two sisters.


Clare had made a private vow of virginity. A local nobleman, Lord Ranieri, testified that many knights had wished to marry the beautiful Clare, but she was determined to dedicate herself to the service of God by remaining in her home, living a life of prayer, and helping those most in need. She also decided to divest herself of her entire inheritance and to give the money to the poor. Francis had heard of Clare's holiness and she had heard Francis preach in the cathedral. Francis came to meet Clare and subsequently Clare, accompanied by a companion, met frequently with Francis.


Whatever happened between Francis and Clare, on Palm Sunday, 1212, Clare took a dramatic, irrevocable step on her spiritual journey. The noblewomen of Assisi, dressed in their finest clothing, paraded through the town to receive the blessed palms at the altar of the cathedral. Clare stood aside from this group. Nevertheless, Bishop Guido came to her and placed a palm in her hand. That night she slipped through the door of her family home and down the winding streets of Assisi to leave the town and to meet Francis at the Portiuncula. There he gave her the tonsure and a drab tunic as her religious garb. When the knights sought Clare the next day to carry her back home, she was found safe in the sanctuary of the Benedictine nuns at Bastia. After a week there, Francis and a few friars walked her to a residence of penitential women living at Panzo.  After a few weeks, when all was in readiness for her life at San Damiano, the small church outside Assisi where Francis had received his call from God, she moved there with the women who chose to join her.


For forty years Clare and the women lived a life of prayer and simplicity outside the city walls, close to leper colonies. These "Poor Ladies" strove to live the Gospels in a way that they had not been lived before. They did not "shirk deprivation, poverty, hard work, trial, or shame and the contempt of the world." Clare, like Francis, considered all persons to be equal. During her lifetime, her reputation became well known as a woman of prayer and one who possessed the gift of healing. A few of her writings remain that provide a glimpse of her rich spirituality. Clare modeled her life on the humanity of Jesus. By gazing upon the image of the crucified Christ, Clare came to identify with his poverty, and this became the foundation for her own practice of poverty. Because Jesus was born poor and naked in the crib and died poor and naked on the cross, the only way Clare knew to imitate him was to be poor also.


Francis of Assisi died the evening of October 3, 1226. The mourners carried his body to San Damiano on their way up the hill to Assisi so that Clare and the women might see his remains and bid him their last farewell. Clare lived for twenty-seven more years offering support and guidance to Francis' earliest companions. During those years she experienced tension with the papacy over the form of life she desired to live. Three different popes gave her "new rules" to live by. When Pope Innocent IV made an effort to give her a Rule in 1247 that did not include the Privilege of Poverty, she began to write her own form of life which was closer in spirit to that of Francis. Clare's form of life was finally approved while Clare lay on her deathbed in 1253. The Poor Clares today follow this Rule of Saint Clare.


 - from the Sisters of St. Francis, Rochester, MN