Clare of Assisi

Early Life

Clare, which means “light”, was so named by her mother, Ortulana, because of a prophetic experience she had before the birth of her second child. While praying for a safe delivery at a nearby Church, Ortulana heard a voice which said, “…You will joyfully bring forth a light which will illumine the world.” Indeed, this prophecy was to be recalled after Clare’s death when her cause for canonization was being considered. Born in Assisi in 1193, Clare was influenced by the piety of her mother, Ortulana. A religious child from her youth, Clare was given to prayer and care for the poor. She often saved food from the table to distribute to the poor outside the doors of her home. Though raised among the nobility, she cared little for the social life which surrounded her, for she had decided to dedicate her life to God. Clare’s father, Favorino, a wealthy noble, expected her to marry the son of another noble. However, she was determined to follow what she believed was a calling from God, a life focused on the gospel and prayer.

Clare and Francis

Francis, the son of the merchant Bernadone, attracted the attention of Clare because of his preaching and style of life. She probably heard him preach in the Cathedral of San Rufino which was next to her family’s castle. Both Francis’ words and his gospel way of life spoke to Clare in the depths of her heart. This is what she wanted to do with her life: to join the followers of Francis. Francis himself had a premonition while he was rebuilding the small church of San Damiano: a voice told him a group of holy women would live in that place. Thus, recognizing in Clare a kindred spirit, he “tutored” her in his way of life.

The Poor Ladies

In a secret and dramatic flight, Clare left her family home late at night on Palm Sunday, 1212, accompanied by her cousin and collaborator, Bona, to enact her desire. At the small chapel of Our Lady of the Angels she was received by Francis and a group of Friars Minor. Clare’s long hair was cut and she exchanged her Palm Sunday finery for a rough gray habit. In this symbolic gesture the seed was planted for the beginning of a new Order in the history of the Church, one different from any other of that period. After a short time with the Benedictine sisters in Bastia, Clare moved to San Damiano with Agnes, her sister, who had then joined her. Here she was to spend the remainder of her life. Clare and Agnes were soon joined by many other women of Assisi, eager as they were to live the feminine dimension of the gospel life of poverty, chastity and obedience that Francis inspired. Although Francis and his followers were itinerant preachers, Clare and her sisters witnessed the gospel in a different way; they remained at San Damiano, living a life of prayer and penance. They became the wholly contemplative branch of the Franciscan Order. Even during her lifetime Clare witnessed a rapid growth of monasteries of Poor Ladies, as they called themselves. By the time of her death in 1253 there were abut 40 groups of these women in Italy and another 60 scattered throughout Europe. Today, after 800 years, there are Poor Clare monasteries in some 67 countries in the world where women are living the gospel way of life Clare embraced. Clare became a light, not only for the Church of the 12th century. Her holiness, already recognized in her lifetime, was proclaimed throughout the Church just two years after her death on August 12, 1253. During her canonization process many of her own sisters as well as residents of Assisi who had come to know Clare, testified to her holiness.