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St. Clare of Assisi

The BBC calls Saint Clare a ‘cool saint’ because she is the patron saint of television. Clare became this because she once saw mass celebrated on the walls of her dormitory even though she was more than a mile away. She saw this so clearly that she could name the friars who organized the mass the next day!

Fresco of Saint Clare located the Lower basilica of San Francesco, Assisi

The beautiful daughter of a very wealthy count in Assisi and his pious Christian wife, Clare was born in 1193. She sought solace in prayers and devotions from an early age. Her parents arranged a marriage for her when she was only 16, but when she was so impressed by the preaching of Saint Francis that she determined to join him.

When the bishop handed her a palm at the Palm Sunday service she believed that it was a sign and decided to run away. She escaped in the dead of night. Saint Francis and some of his disciples met her and led the way to their convent with torches. She abandoned her fashionable clothes for a rough tunic given to her by Saint Francis who also cut off her long hair.

Her family which owned a palace at Assisi and a castle were furious and tried to take her back by force but she wouldn’t go. Her sister, Agnes, joined her and was instrumental in lessening the tension between Clare and her family.

Clare followed in Saint Francis’s footsteps, founding the Poor Clares who were noted for their strict rules and piety. They lived only on alms, ate no meat and wore no shoes and spent their time in prayers and silence. Clare became an abbess at twenty-one. She was so highly regarded that popes, cardinals and bishops came to her for advice. She lived to see the establishment of convents of Poor Clares all over Europe.

Stubborn and determined, Clare insisted on her devotees leading what she saw as a pure Christian life. When Pope Gregory IV wanted the Poor Clares to lessen their strict poverty she rebelled. She told him that: “I need to be absolved from my sins, but I do not wish to be absolved from the obligation of following Jesus Christ.” She also exclaimed that: “They say that we are too poor, but can a heart which possesses the infinite God be truly called poor?”

Clare was a good friend to Saint Francis. She persuaded him to abandon the idea of living a life of solitary contemplation at one stage and continue to lead his disciples. When he was dying, Clare built a wattle hut for him close to her convent of San Damiano. Here he wrote the Canticles of the Sun.

Saint Clare did not lead an entirely peaceful life free from trouble. Often racked with illness, she showed incredible bravery on two occasions. When the Saracens tried to attack the convent in 1241, even though she was sick, she appeared at the window and held up the Blessed Sacrament and prayed before it.

Basilica of St. Clare located in Assisi

She asked God: “Oh Lord, protect these Sisters whom I cannot protect now.” She heard an answer, “I will keep them always in My care.” Legend has it that they were momentarily blinded by a bright light which frightened them and fled. Later in 1241 when the troops of Vitalis d’Aversa tried to attack Clare prayed again and a fierce storm blew up and frightened them away.

Many miracles happened during Clare’s lifetime. She cured the sick by blessing them and sometimes the other sisters saw the aura of a rainbow surrounding her. The sisters were frightened when a heavy door fell on her but she escaped entirely unharmed. She could fill olive jars by blessing them.

When Saint Clare was dying she was visited by the Pope himself. After she died in 1253 a church was built in her honor, Santa Chiara in Assisi.

She urged fellow Christians to:

“Place your mind before the mirror of eternity! Place your soul in the brilliance of glory! And transform your entire being into the image of the Godhead Itself through contemplation”.

By Lisa-Anne Sanderson

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