Clare of Assisi, St.
CLARE OF ASSISI, ST.
Founder of the Order of Saint Clare; b. Assisi, Italy, 1193/94, d. Monastery of San Damiano outside the walls of Assisi, Aug. 11, 1253. Clare was born to Ortulana and Favarone di Offreducio, a noble Umbrian household. Attracted to the gospel message of francis of assisi, and with his assistance and that of Guido, bishop of Assisi, on Palm Sunday 1211/12, Clare left her home with a companion and was received by Francis as a penitent at the Portiuncula in lower Assisi. During Holy Week, she stayed at the Benedictine Monastery of San Paolo in Bastia until Francis, Bernard, and Philip brought her to the beginue-like house of Sant'Angelo on the slope of Mount Subasio. There her sister Catherine, later canonized as agnes of assisi, joined her despite the attempts of the Offreducio family to impede both daughters from exchanging their aristocratic privileges for the simple life exemplified by Francis and his early brotherhood.
Before 1215, when the Fourth Lateran Council forbade the establishment of new religious orders, Francis provided Clare with a simple Form of Life and persuaded her to accept the title of abbess in an effort to legitimize the enclosed life of the Poor Ladies of San Damiano. According to tradition, before his death Pope Innocent III granted Clare the privilege to follow the poor Christ without owning property.
While recent scholars may question the authenticity of the document known as the Privilege of Poverty, it is undisputed that Clare's life energy was spent establishing a way for religious women to live as Francis did: sine proprio, without property. Spanning the terms of five popes, she tried to incorporate her radical form of life into the existing ecclesial patterns for monastic women. Neither the rules written for her and the Poor Ladies of San Damiano by Pope Gregory IX in 1219 nor by Pope Innocent IV in 1247 provided for her vision of communal poverty or her desire for her sisters to benefit from the ministries of Francis's brothers. Ultimately, Clare became the first woman to write a religious Form of Life which, while she was on her deathbed, received papal approbation (from Innocent IV). Her form of life dismantled established monastic practices for women by embracing members from all societal classes, providing for participation in governance, moderating the interpretation of the enclosure, and describing the role of abbess as that of sister and servant. At the same time, Clare held firmly to the monastic rhythm of the liturgy of the hours, the importance of silence, and manual work.
Clare became known for healing those in need, as well as for saving the city of Assisi from Saracen attacks in 1240 and 1241. Her spirituality flowed from her imitation of the humanity of Christ and her compassion for the crucified Christ extended to the suffering and poor. Her canonization proceedings began in November 1253; she was canonized on Aug. 12, 1255. In 1260, her body was moved inside Assisi to the Church of San Giorgio. Her body is interred in the Basilica of Santa Chiara, the protomonastery of the poor clares. Clare was declared the patron of television because of her 1252 vision of the Christmas liturgy at the Basilica of Santa Francesco; she is also a patron of needleworkers. In iconography she is often represented with her Rule, the Gospel, the Eucharist, a crucifix, or a lily.
Feast: Aug. 11.
Bibliography: z. lazzeri, ed., "Process of Canonization," Archivum Franciscanum historicum 13 (1920) 403–507. r. armstrong, Clare of Assisi: Early Documents (St. Bonaventure, N.Y. 1993). m. bartoli, Clare of Assisi (Quincy, Ill. 1993). m. carney, The First Franciscan Woman: Clare of Assisi and her Form of Life (Quincy, Ill. 1993). i. peterson, Clare of Assisi: A Biographical Study (Quincy, Ill. 1993). w. maleczek, "Questions About the Authenticity of the Privilege of Poverty of Innocent III and the Testament of Clare of Assisi," Greyfriars Review Supp. (1998) 1–80. m. alberzoni, "San Damiano in 1228: A Contribution to the 'Clare Question,'" tr. e. hagman, Greyfriars Review 13, no.1 (1999).