(c. 1320) by Simone Martini in the Lower basilica of
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Clare of Assisi (16 July 1194 – 11 August 1253, born Chiara Offreduccio and sometimes
spelled Clara, Clair, Claire, Sinclair, etc.) is an Italian saint and one of the first followers
of Francis of Assisi. She founded the Order of Poor Ladies, a monastic religious order
for women in the Franciscan tradition, and wrote their Rule of Life, the first set of
monastic guidelines known to have been written by a woman. Following her death,
the order she founded was renamed in her honour as the Order of Saint Clare,
commonly referred to today as the Poor Clares. Her feast day is on 11 August.
that Clare's father was a wealthy representative of an ancient Roman family, who
belonged to the noble family of Fiumi, and was a very devout woman who had
undertaken pilgrimages to Rome, Santiago de Compostela and the Holy Land. Later
in life, Ortolana entered Clare's monastery, as did Clare's sisters, Beatrix and Catarina
(who took the name Agnes and was later declared a saint herself).
As a child, Clare was devoted to prayer. Although there is no mention of this in any historical
Assisi and asked him to help her to live after the manner of the Gospel. On the evening of
Palm Sunday, 20 March 1212, she left her father's house and accompanied by her aunt
Bianca and another companion proceeded to the chapel of the Porziuncula to meet Francis.
There, her hair was cut, and she exchanged her rich gown for a plain robe and veil.
other husband but Jesus Christ. In order to provide the greater solitude Clare desired, a
few days later Francis sent her to Sant' Angelo in Panzo, another monastery of the
Benedictine nuns on one of the flanks of Subasio. Clare was soon joined by her sister
Catarina, who took the name Agnes.
They remained with the Benedictines until a small dwelling was built for them next to the church
of San Damiano, which Francis had repaired some years earlier.
San Damiano became the centre of Clare's new religious order, which was known in her lifetime as the "Order of Poor Ladies of San Damiano". San
Damiano is traditionally considered the first house of this order; it may have been affiliated with an existing network of women's religious houses
organised by Hugolino (who later became Pope Gregory IX). Hugolino wanted San Damiano as part of the order he founded because of the prestige of
Clare's monastery. San Damiano emerged as the most important house in the order, and Clare became its undisputed leader. By 1263, just ten years after
Clare's death, the order had become known as the Order of Saint Clare.
In 1228, when Gregory IX offered Clare a dispensation from the vow of strict poverty, she replied: "I need to be absolved from my sins, but not from the
obligation of following Christ." Accordingly, the Pope granted them the Privilegium Pauperitatis — that nobody could oblige them to accept any
Unlike the Franciscan friars, whose members moved around the country to preach, Saint Clare's sisters lived in enclosure, since an itinerant life was
hardly conceivable at the time for women. Their life consisted of manual labour and prayer. The nuns went barefoot, slept on the ground, ate no meat
and observed almost complete silence.
For a short period, the order was directed by Francis himself. Then in 1216, Clare accepted the role of abbess of San Damiano. As abbess, Clare had more
authority to lead the order than when she was the prioress and required to follow the orders of a priest heading the community. Clare defended her order
from the attempts of prelates to impose a rule on them that more closely resembled the Rule of Saint Benedict than Francis' stricter vows. Clare sought
to imitate Francis' virtues and way of life so much so that she was sometimes titled alter Franciscus, another Francis. She also played a significant role in
encouraging and aiding Francis, whom she saw as a spiritual father figure, and she took care of him during his final illness.
After Francis's death, Clare continued to promote the growth of her order, writing letters to abbesses in other parts of Europe and thwarting every attempt
by each successive pope to impose a rule on her order which weakened the radical commitment to corporate poverty she had originally embraced. Clare's
Franciscan theology of joyous poverty in imitation of Christ is evident in the rule she wrote for her community and in her four letters to Agnes of Prague.
Separately in September 1240 and June 1241, a pair of armies attacked the monastery of San Damiano and the town of Assisi. Both targets were
successfully defended as Clare prayed to Christ, present in the Blessed Sacrament.
In her later years, Clare endured a long period of poor health. She died on 11 August 1253 at the age of 59. Her last words as reported to have been,
"Blessed be You, O God, for having created me".