St Clare of Assisi. (1194-1253)

St. Clare, Simone Martini, c.1300

August 11 is the feast of St. Clare of Assisi, an important saint in the 13th century Franciscan movement that would have a profound impact on the Christian world. Besides her example of faith, we can also see in Clare a woman who advanced women’s rights, changing the society she lived in.

Clare came from a powerful aristocratic family of landowners who held extensive farmlands around Assisi in Italy and controlled the peasants working them. A private army of knights protected and advanced her family’s interests. 

Like Francis of Assisi, whose family were merchants intent on bettering themselves by exploiting the new trade routes linking Italy to the rest of Europe, Clare felt called to another way of life. She wished to follow Jesus Christ.

She left her wealthy family as a young woman of 18 to embrace a life without property. “Foxes have dens and the birds of the air have their nest, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,” Jesus said. Like Francis, who encouraged her, she began searching for treasures of another kind. 

As she wrote to Agnes of Prague, princess of Bohemia:

“Happy is she who clings with her whole heart to him whose beauty the hosts of heaven admire, whose tenderness touches, whose contemplation refreshes, whose kindness overflows, whose delight overwhelms, whose remembrance delightfully dawns, whose fragrance brings the dead to life again, whose glorious vision brings happiness…

He is the radiance of eternal glory, the brightness of eternal light and the mirror without blemish.

Gaze on the mirror each day and study your face in it…Indeed in that mirror blessed poverty, holy humility and inexpressible charity shine forth.” 

Assisted by Francis, Clare and some young companions, including her sister Agnes, moved to the abandoned church of San Damiano outside Assisi after Holy Week in 1212.There they renounced a life of privilege and properties to live humbly and simply, following Jesus Christ.  

The community she founded would be known later as “The Poor Clares.” It drew women together from the ranks of royalty to the poorest peasants.

Clare and women like her were part of an important spiritual movement in medieval Christianity which enriched the church with new forms of religious life and devotion. They were young people reacting to a world in love with success and insistent on class.  In a time of violence and competition, ruthless pursuit of wealth and privilege, they pursued another way:

“You are the spouse, and the mother and the sister of my Lord Jesus Christ.” It came down to that.

5 thoughts on “St Clare of Assisi. (1194-1253)

  1. fdanies1

    I never knew that I could be the sister of my Lord Jesus Christ. Wow! Another relationship to meditate upon and help me get still closer to our Lord. Father Victor, where did you find such soul-moving words from St Clare?

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  2. fdanies1

    Thank you for the citation and for the spiritual Direction you provide through your blog. It is much needed and much appreciated!

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  3. fdan

    Dear Father Victor, thank you for your reflection and the words, “It came down to that.” You help me come to the truth about who I am, so that I can get to that vulnerable place in me where God waits for me. Dearest Saint Claire, pray for us and help us to reflect Christ in our lives and to all who need our help. And blessed are the poor in spirit, and may we count among them.

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  4. cenaclemary12

    Another aspect of Clare’s ministry:
    “Francis wrote his immortal Canticle of the Creatures while in Clare’s care at San Damiano. The incredible power and poetry of this song has long fascinated all who read, study, or sing it. One word in that poem, written in Umbrian dialect, and written during a time of daily nursing by Clare, catches the eye. It is the word clarite. “Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars, in heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful” (Canticle, 5). This is the adjective for the stars. They are “clarite et pretiose et belle,”—clear, precious, beautiful. In the long dark time of his illness, was it Clare who was this “pretiose, belle, clarite” companion whose light helped him endure encroaching blindness and searing pain? She had been—and would remain—the North Star for all who wanted to follow his way.

    — from the book Light of Assisi: The Story of Saint Clare
    by Margaret Carney, OSF

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