Clare of Assisi was born in 1193 as Chiara di Favarone di Offreduccio, the daughter of the knight Favarone di Offreduccio and his wife Ortolana and belonged to one of the most important noble families in Assisi.
However, during her youth, she got extremely fascinated by St Francis. When Chiara was 18 years old, she renounced marriage and a life of wealth and social prestige, fled to the monastery of the Franciscan brothers just outside Assisi in 1212, and became a nun. She became the first female companion of St Francis and lived as ascetically as him. After the death of St Francis, she became the heart of Franciscan spirituality. Below we share some of the most interesting facts about St Clare of Assisi and what made her unique.
Clare of Assisi was the first woman in the history of the church to write a rule of order. A contemplative nun who, for more than thirty years, successfully resisted popes and cardinals in a matter of the heart, yet retained their respect and admiration.
She was a spiritual leader who advised St. Agnes of Prague via four handwritten letters, an abbess who at her death led about sixty monasteries, which she had never visited. On 26 September 1255, Clare was canonized by Pope Alexander IV and her feast day was inserted in the General Roman Calendar for celebration on 12 August, one day after her death, as 11 August was already assigned to two 3rd-century Roman martyrs, Saints Tiburtius and Susanna.
Francis – Her Influence
Deeply influenced by Francis of Assisi, Clare refused to marry as her parents wished, and instead fled to the Porziuncola chapel near Assisi. Francis received her vows on 18 March 1212 and consequently began the St. Francis Second Order.
Clare was joined by many, including her mother and her sister St. Agnes of Assisi. The “Poor Clares” were soon housed in the church and convent of San Damiano in the vicinity of Assisi where she became Abbess in 1216. Clare’s great interest was obtaining a Rule that reflected the spirit of Francis to replace the Benedictine Rule that Cardinal Ugolino (later Pope Gregory IX) had adapted for his order.
In addition to its “privilege of perfect poverty”, which prohibits property ownership even by society, Clare’s Order is known for its apostolic aim. She considered its penitential prayer life to be a spiritually revitalizing force for the church and society.
This view was shared by the popes and by the grateful citizens of Assisi, who credited Clare twice with saving their city from destruction. On the first occasion, Clare caused the abbot to raise the Host at the refectory window, whereupon the Moorish allies of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, fell back while storming the walls.
On the second occasion, when a larger force led by General Vitale d’Aversa besieged Assisi, Clare and her nuns prayed fervently for Assisi, and a great storm dispersed the attackers. She was credited with second miracles in life and after death. In 1958, Pope Pius XII declared her Patron Saint of television, referring to a time when she was too sick to attend the Christmas midnight mass in the Basilica of San Francesco and she had reportedly been able to miraculously see and hear it on the wall of her room.
Life of Prayer
Clare lived a hidden life with her sisters in the closed and strict San Damiano convent. She lived a life of prayer, penance, and service for the sake of the world. She had a strong spirit but had a weak body due to penance and fasting which led to her becoming ill.
Clare could recognize the sacredness in every person and the will to take care of the sick and weak. Her feminine virtues of motherhood, care, and purity were described as the most typical qualities but she also possessed enormous power and courage as for more than thirty years, she resisted the advances of popes and cardinals while still gaining their respect.
Clare died on 11 August 1253. Pope Innocent IV who happened to be staying in his palace at the friars’ monastery in Assisi, officiated the funeral. He knew her very well and was convinced of her sanctity. After her death, Clare was described as exemplary and moral, her care and purity but also patience, humility, kindness, generosity, devotion, and restraint were particularly highlighted. Her great aversion to riches is especially praised, as she could never be persuaded to want anything of her own or to accept possessions, either for herself or for the convent.