THE LIFE OF ST CLARE OF ASSISI
Born in 1194, Clare Offreduccio was the daughter of an aristocratic family in Assisi. When she was eighteen years old, she heard a sermon by Francis of Assisi, and was moved by it to follow the example of the Franciscan brothers and vow herself to a life of poverty. Her family was horrified, and brought her back home by force; but one night, in a gesture both tactical and symbolic, she slipped out of her house through “the door of the dead” (a small side door that was traditionally opened only to carry out a corpse) and returned to the house of the Franciscans. Francis cut off her hair, and placed her in a nearby Benedictine convent. Later the Church of San Damiano was given for her, and she was eventually joined by two of her sisters, her widowed mother, and several members of the wealthy Ubaldini family of Florence. Clare’s best friend, Pacifica, could not resist, and joined them, too.
The sisters of her order came to be known informally as Minoresses (Franciscan brothers are Friars Minor = “lesser brothers”) or as Poor Clares When the order was formed, Francis suggested Clare for the Superior. But she refused the position until she turned twenty-one. They devoted themselves to prayer, nursing the sick, and works of mercy for the poor and neglected.
They adopted a rule of life of extreme austerity (more so than of any other order of women up to that time) and of absolute poverty, both individually and collectively. They had no beds. They slept on twigs with patched hemp for blankets. Wind and rain seeped through cracks in the ceilings. They ate very little, with no meat at all. Whatever they ate was food they begged for. Clare made sure she fasted more than anyone else. Despite this way of life, or perhaps because of it, the followers of Clare were the most beautiful young girls from the best families of Assisi. Unlike the Friars, the Poor Clares live a life of enclosure with the cloister of the monastery.
St. Clare is generally shown in iconography holding the Blessed Sacrament. This represents the time when, in 1234, the army of Frederick II was devastating the valley of Spoleto. The soldiers, preparatory to an assault upon Assisi, scaled the walls of San Damiano by night, spreading terror among the community. Clare, calmly rising from her sick bed, and taking the ciborium from the little chapel adjoining her cell, proceeded to face the invaders at an open window against which they had already placed a ladder. It is related that, as she raised the Blessed Sacrament on 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.
Later, a larger force returned to storm Assisi, headed by the General Vitale di Aversa who had not been present at the first attack, Clare, gathering her daughters about her, knelt with them in earnest prayer that the town might be spared. Presently 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 gratitude of the Assisians, who with one accord attributed their deliverance to Clare’s intercession, increased their love for the “Seraphic Mother”
To this day, there are various communities of Poor Clares both in the Roman Catholic Church and in the Anglican Communion.
THE COLLECT FOR ST CLARE OF ASSISI
God of peace, who in the poverty of the blessed Clare gave us a clear light to shine in the darkness of this world: give us grace so to follow in her footsteps that we may, at the last, rejoice with her in your eternal glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.