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Clare of Assisi
means "light", was so named by her mother, Ortulana, because of a
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.
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.
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
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. In the Bull of canonization,
Innocent IV declared:
O wondrous blessed clarity of Clare!
In life she shone to a few;
after death she shines on the whole world!
On earth she was a clear light;
Now in heaven she is a brilliant sun.
O how great the vehemence of the
brilliance of this clarity!
On earth this light was indeed kept
within cloistered walls,
yet shed abroad its shining rays;
It was confined within a convent cell,
yet spread itself through the wide world.