Thursday, August 11, 2011


Clare was perhaps 13 years younger than St Francis, but she outlived him by 30 years, faithfully leading the first ever convent of what were to be called the “Poor Clares,” and never leaving San Damiano for the rest of her life (over 40 years as Prioress).

Only toward the end of her life did St Clare realize that the extreme discipline of her and her sisters’ lives was too strict (as St Francis realized much earlier, about his own life)—she encouraged the sisters to modify their life-style with the words “After all, our bodies are not made of brass.”

Nevertheless, St Clare was adamant about living in complete evangelical poverty. When the pope (!) offered to dispense her and her companions of this vow, she said, “I need to be absolved of my sins, but I do not wish to be absolved from the obligation of following Jesus Christ.” The pope backed off, and he conferred on San Damiano the Privilegium paupertatis, the privilege of poverty.

When St Clare escaped to the Porziuncola at Santa Maria degli Angeli the night before her wedding (she was 18), St Francis tonsured her, gave her the robes of a penitent, and took her to a Benedictine convent for safety—a good thing, as her family tried to drag her forcibly out of the church and back to “normal” life.

A delightful biography of St Clare is Clare: The Light in the Garden by Murray Bodo, OFM. He also wrote Francis: The Journey and the Dream.

The site of St Clare’s family house (marked by a plaque) is on the left-hand side of the piazza in front of San Ruffino in Assisi—in this church both she and St Francis were baptized.

The sisters were forced to leave San Damiano because there were fears for their safety (San Damiano is well outside the city walls of Assisi). They were given the church of San Giorgio (now Santa Chiara), with the friars moving down to San Damiano. The sisters reluctantly agreed, but they insisted on taking the famous crucifix with them—which is why it is now enshrined in Santa Chiara in a side-chapel to the right as you enter the church.

In the crypt of Santa Chiara in a reliquary one can see a glass and silver box containing some of the locks of St Clare’s hair from the tonsure—a touching memento.

Her dying words were: “Go forth in peace, for you have followed the good road. Go forth without fear, for He that created you has sanctified you, has always protected you, and loves you as a mother. Blessed be thou, O God, for having created me.” May we all find ourselves able to make such a prayer at the time of our departure.

No comments:

Post a Comment