16 July 2016

St Clare of Assisi

Birth of the founder of the Poor Clares

This fresco depicting Clare of Assisi was painted by the Italian artist Giotto in 1325
This fresco depicting Clare of Assisi was
painted by the Italian artist Giotto in 1325
St Clare was born on this day in 1194 in Assisi as Chiara Offreduccio, the beautiful daughter of a Count.

As a young girl Clare was extremely devout and at the age of 18 she was inspired by hearing Francis of Assisi preach and went to see him to ask for help to live her life according to the Gospel.

In 1212, Clare left her father’s home and went to the chapel of Porziuncula to meet Francis. Her hair was cut off and she was given a plain robe and veil in exchange for her rich gown.

Clare joined a convent of Benedictine nuns and when her father tracked her down refused to leave it to return home.

Francis sent her to another monastery, where she was later joined by her sister. Over the years other women came to be with them who also wanted to serve Jesus and live with no money. They became known as the Poor Ladies of San Damiano because of the austere lifestyle they lived.

Clare took care of St Francis when he became old and after his death continued to lead her Order of Poor Women in the Franciscan tradition, which later became known as the Order of St Clare, also often referred to as The Poor Clares.

A fresco by Giotto showing  St Francis and St Clare
Another work by Giotto showing
St Francis and St Clare
In 1224, the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, sent an army of soldiers to attack Assisi and, although she was very sick at the time, Clare went out to meet them carrying the Blessed Sacrament and placed it by the wall of the convent where they could see it. Then on her knees she begged God to save the Sisters in her Order.

At that moment a sudden fright seemed to strike the soldiers and they fled without harming anyone in Assisi.

Just before Clare’s death in 1253, Pope Innocent IV declared the Rule of Life that she had written for her women would serve as the governing rule for Clare’s Order. It is believed to be the first set of monastic guidelines known to have been drawn up by a woman.

After Clare died at the age of 59, her remains were placed in the Chapel of San Giorgio while a new church dedicated to her was being built. Two years later in 1255 she was made a saint, St Clare of Assisi, by Pope Alexander IV.

The Basilica of St Clare was finished in 1260 and her remains were buried beneath the high altar there. Six centuries later her remains were transferred to a newly constructed shrine in the crypt of the Basilica.

St Clare’s feast day is celebrated every year on August 11.

The façade of the Basilica of St Clare in Assisi
The façade of the Basilica of St Clare in Assisi
Travel tip:

The Basilica of St Clare (Basilica di Santa Chiara) is in Piazza Santa Chiara in Assisi. It was built in the 13th century in Gothic style to contain the remains of St Clare. These were transferred to a shrine in the basilica in the 19th century. The church is open daily from 06.30 to 12.00 and from 14.00 to 19.00. Outside the church there is a terrace with lovely views of the surrounding Umbrian countryside.

Travel tip:

The Papal Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, the mother church of the Franciscan Order, is in Piazza Inferiore di San Francesco in Assisi. Built into the side of a hill, it consists of two churches, a lower Basilica and an upper Basilica, and a crypt that contains the remains of St Francis. The Basilica is one of the most important places of Christian pilgrimage in Italy and has been a Unesco World Heritage site since 2000.

(Photo of Basilica of St Clare by Geobia CC BY-SA 3.0)


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