|Clare of Assisi
Italy (1193? - 1254) Timeline
Christian : Catholic
Poems by Clare of Assisi
Books - Links
At the age of 15, arrangements were made for Clare to marry, but she refused. When she was 18, Clare heard Francis give a series of sermons during the Lent season. On Palm Sunday, late at night, Clare snuck out of her family house and, outside the walls of Assisi, met with Francis and his followers. She put on a simple habit and Francis personally cut off her hair as a symbol of her renunciation.
Francis arranged for Clare to stay at a local Benedictine convent, since it would not have seemed proper for her to stay with Francis and his fellow monks. A few days later, Clare's family discovered where she was staying and tried to drag her from the convent. Only when she revealed her cropped hair did they relent and give up claim on her.
In this story of escapes and secret meetings, there are elements of a chaste and spiritual love affair, much like the ideals of courtly love found in Francis's beloved Troubadour songs. But the relationship between Clare and Francis should not be so overly simplified. Clare saw in Francis someone who could lead her to espousal with Christ.
Clare founded a women's community at San Damiano embodying the Franciscan ideal of radical poverty. Other women soon joined, including Clare's sister and, eventually, Clare's own mother. But, whereas Francis encouraged the Franciscan brothers to move through the world, witnessing and engaging in the lives of the sick and the laboring class, Clare's community of women led lives of enclosure, contemplation, and mutual support.
Church authorities had already begun to oppose Francis's insistence on absolute poverty for his followers. Those in his favor saw this approach as impractical, while the wealthier prelates resented the implied criticism of their excesses, a criticism which paralleled some of the other mystical poverty movements of the time that had been judged to be heretical. But for a group of enclosed women to follow vows of strict poverty was almost unthinkable. Clare spent much of her life defending the right of the "Poor Ladies" (now called the Poor Clares) to maintain their obedience to poverty.
Francis often turned to Clare for advice and inspiration. When Francis was torn between a life of prayer and one of preaching, it was Clare who advised him to speak, saying, "God did not call you for yourself alone." The Canticle of Brother Sun, Francis's masterpiece of poetry, was composed while he was encamped outside of Clare's convent of San Damiano. When Francis was afflicted with the stigmata, Clare made him slippers to protect his bleeding feet.
Clare lived twenty-seven years beyond the death of Francis. During most of those remaining years she was apparently ill with a mysterious sickness that kept her bedridden, though she remained a strong-minded and determined woman throughout that period.
Despite her position as abbess, she was true to the humble Franciscan ideal by serving the sick, waiting table, and washing the feet of the begging nuns. She came from prayer, it was said, with her face so shining it dazzled those about her. In spite of her ongoing struggles with Church authorities -- or perhaps because of them -- popes, cardinals and bishops often came to consult her.
Clare was declared a saint sixty years after her death.
Poems by Clare of Assisi
- Draw me after You!
- Happy, indeed, is she whom it is given to share this sacred banquet
- O blessed poverty
- Place your mind before the mirror of eternity!
- What a great laudable exchange
- What you hold, may you always hold
- When You have loved, You shall be chaste
Santa Chiara d'Assisi
An excellent site with many of Clare's writings, such as her letters to Agnes of Bohemia, etc., as well as a biography and some other articles.