Clare of Assisi
16 July 1194 - 11 August, 1253
My name is Clare and I was born the eldest daughter of a noble family in Assisi Italy in the year 1193. My family owned a large palazzo in Assisi and a castle on the slope of Mount Subasio. My father was Favorino Scifi, Count of Sasso-Rosso, a wealthy man descended from an ancient Roman family. My mother was Countess Blessed Orsolana who belonged to a noble family of Fiumi and was known for her fervor and piety.
From childhood, I was devoted to prayer. As I grew into girlhood, my distaste for the world and my yearning for a more spiritual life increased. I was 18 years of age when a man known as Francis of Assisi came to preach in the church of San Giorgio at Assisi. They called him the Poverello, or the poor man, and his humble but powerful words kindled a flame in my heart. After the service, I sought him out secretly and begged him to help me so that I too might live religiously. Immediately, he recognized that God had chosen my soul and he told me that I was destined for great things. He foresaw that in the future, many would follow my example. He promised to assist me. From that moment on, we became close friends - he as my wise tutor, and I as his eager student. Our friendship was to endure our entire lives.
Francis of Assisi
On Palm Sunday on March 20th in the year 1212, arrayed in all my finery, I attended Mass. When others pressed forward to the altar-rail to receive their branches of palm, I remained in my place, rapt in a dream. All eyes fell upon me as the bishop noticed me and came to place a palm in my hand. Stunned, I glanced down at the branch in my hands and knew it was a sign from God. That was the last time the world beheld me.
That night, encouraged by Francis of Assisi, while everyone slept, I secretly left my palazzo. Accompanied by my aunt Bianca and another companion, we made our way to the modest chapel of the Porziuncula where Francis and his disciples met me with lights in their hands.
There, I laid aside my rich garments. Francis cut off my hair and I donned a rough tunic and thick veil. In this way, I vowed to serve Jesus Christ. Francis then placed me with the Benedictine nuns of San Paolo, near Bastia.
When my father learned of my secret flight, he became furious, for he had expected me to make a splendid marriage. He arrived in San Paolo and tried to drag me away by force. But I held my own with strength and firmness until my father was finally obliged to leave me in peace. A few days later, Francis, in order to secure for me the solitude I desired, transferred me to Sant'Angelo in Panzo, another monastery of the Benedictine nuns on the flanks of Subasio. Here some sixteen days after my own flight, my sister, Agnes joined me, whom I was instrumental in delivering from the persecution of our infuriated relatives.
|Agnes of Assisi|
My sister and I remained with the nuns at Sant'Angelo until we, and other women fugitives from the world, were established by Francis into a rude dwelling adjoining the poor chapel of San Damiano, situated outside the town which he had rebuilt with his own hands.
Thus was founded the first community of the Order of Poor Ladies, or Poor Clares. Like the Franciscans, we followed the absolute rule of poverty, a rule dear to the heart of Francis. Owning nothing, we were to depend entirely upon what the friars could beg for on our behalf. Although even the pope tried to dissuade us from practicing such a harsh rule, I resisted, until finally I earned the pope’s admiration and he permitted us to retain our strict poverty.
In 1215, much against my will, Francis made me the superior at San Damiano. There I ruled as abbess for forty years. In all that time, I never once went beyond the boundaries of San Damiano. The people came to know me as a living example of poverty, humiliation, and mortification and I frequently engaged in manual labour. Our community at San Damiano became known for every virtue. After my father's death, my younger sister Beatrix, my mother Ortolana, and my faithful aunt Bianca followed Agnes and I into the order.
Although I was strong and determined, I was a woman of gentle spirit. I loved music and the brilliance of a well-spoken sermon. In all things, I strived to be humble and merciful. Many praised me for my charm, optimism, and chivalry. Every day, I prayed. I would rise late at night to lovingly check on my sisters and tuck them in if they had kicked off their blankets. Slowly, wherever Franciscan monasteries were built, so did one for the Poor Clares. Soon, our monastic order spread to all corners of Europe.
But my most important role was to aid and encourage Francis. It was to me he turned when in doubt, and it was I who urged him to continue his mission to the people at a time when he thought his vocation lay rather in a life of contemplation. When he became blind and ill, Francis came for the last time to visit San Damiano. I had a little wattle hut built for him in an olive grove close to the monastery and here he spent his last days. After his death, the procession which accompanied his remains stopped so that I and the sisters might venerate him. Francis would always live, and my loyalty never swerved from his ideals, which I clung to with jealous care for the rest of my life.
In 1234, the army of Frederic II was devastating the valley of Spoleto. The soldiers scaled the walls of San Damiano by night, spreading terror among the community. I rose calmly from my sick bed, and taking the ciborium from the little chapel adjoining my cell, faced the invaders at an open window against which they had already placed a ladder. As I raised the item high, the soldiers who were about to enter the monastery fell backward as if dazzled, and the others who were ready to follow them took flight. It is with reference to this incident that I have since represented in art bearing a ciborium.
Later, an even larger force returned to storm Assisi. I gathered the nuns about me and knelt with them in earnest prayer that the town might be spared. A furious storm arose, scattering the tents of the soldiers in every direction, and causing such a panic that they again took refuge in flight. The people of Assisi attributed their deliverance to my act of intercession.
Although I had long been enshrined in the hearts of the people, their love for me became more apparent as, wasted by illness and austerities, I drew towards my own end. Brave and cheerful to the last, in spite of my long and painful infirmities, I permitted myself to be raised in bed and I spun the finest thread for the purpose of having it woven into the most delicate material. From this cloth, I made more than one hundred corporals, square white linen cloths smaller than the breadth of an altar, upon which chalices were to be placed during the celebration of Mass. Enclosing them in a silken burse, I ordered them to be given to the churches surrounding the plains and mountains of Assisi. When I became too ill to attend Mass, an image of the service would appear on the wall of my cell. Because of this miracle, I was to one day become the patron saint of television.
When I felt the day of my death approaching, I gathered my sorrowing nuns and charged them with preserving the observance of poverty. The pope came from Perugia to visit me and my sister Agnes returned from Florence to console me at my deathbed. After receiving last rites, before dawn on 11 August, 1253, I passed peacefully away with touching simplicity.
But my story does not end here. The Clares wanted to retain my body among them at San Damiano, but officials of Assisi interfered and wanted my remains to reside within the town, arguing I had saved the town from destruction on two occasions. Because these miracles were talked of far and wide, it was not safe, the officials urged, to leave my body in a lonely spot without the walls; it was only right, too, that I should have a church in Assisi built in my honour. Amid all this bickering, my remains were placed in the chapel of San Giorgio, where Francis’s preaching had first touched my young heart, and where his own body had been interred.
Two years after my death, on the 26th day of September, 1255, I was canonized a saint. Not long afterwards the church of Santa Chiara (Saint Clare) was begun. Upon its completion, my remains were transferred there, buried deep down in the earth under the high altar, far out of sight and reach. Over the years, I was forgotten and my remains remained hidden for 6 centuries, lost to the world.
After much searching, however, my long lost tomb was found on September 23rd, 1850, to the great joy of the people of Assisi. My coffin was unearthed and opened. My flesh and clothing had been reduced to dust, but my skeleton was in a perfect state of preservation. Finally, on the 29th of September, 1872, my bones were transferred, with much pomp, to the shrine, in the crypt at Santa Chiara, where it was originally erected to receive them centuries earlier, and where they may now be seen enclosed in a representation of my body.
My feast day is celebrated on August 11. Because my name, Clare means clarity, brightness, and brilliance, I was to become the patron saint of eyes and eyesight in addition to the patron saint of television.