"While you are proclaiming
peace with your lips, be
careful to have it even
more fully in your heart."
Francis of Assisi
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Saint Day…August 11
Cofoundress of the Poor Clares
First Abbess of San Damiano
Born July 16, 1194-died August 11, 1253
“Tasting the hidden sweetness.”
Clare was the eldest daughter of Favorino Scifi, Count of Sasso-Rosso, a very wealthy man who came from an ancient Roman family. He owned a large palace in
As a young child, it appeared that Clare was blessed with the rarest virtues. She was devoted to prayer and practices of mortification. As Clare matured her distaste for the world and her desire for a more spiritual life increased.
When Clare was eighteen years of age, she heard Francis of Assisi preach a Lenten sermon in the
Francis placed Clare with the Benedictine nuns, at the Convent of San Paolo, near
In order to secure Clare the greater solitude she desired, St. Francis, transferred her to Sant’Angelo in Panzo, another monastery of the Benedictine nuns in Subasio. Clare’s younger sister Agnes joined her and both remained with the nuns of Sant’Angelo until they, and other fugitives from the world who had followed them, were placed by St. Francis in a rude dwelling adjoining the poor chapel of San Damiano. This dwelling was situated outside the town which he had rebuilt with his own hands, and which he now obtained from the Benedictines as a permanent dwelling for his spiritual daughters. Thus was founded the first community of the Order of Poor Clares, as this second order of St. Francis came to be called.
Clare shared Francis’s passionate commitment to “Lady Poverty.” For her this meant literal poverty and insecurity. The Poor Clares practiced the strictest of poverty. They wore no shoes, stockings, or any other type of foot covering; they slept on the ground, ate no meat, practiced the rule of silence, and engaged in other physical austerities. The Poor Clare’s rule of poverty was so severe that it was brought to the attention of the Pope. Her rule was relaxed by two Pope’s, but Clare petitioned Rome and just days before she died Pope Innocent IV sent her a copy of her rule embellished with the his approving seal, granting the Poor Clares, at San Damiano, the right to live in perpetual poverty without any fixed income. A notation on the document notes that Clare, in tearful joy, covered the parchment with kisses.
St. Clare was made superior at San Damiano by St. Francis in 1215 and continued to rule as abbess until her death, in 1253, nearly forty years later. It is believed that she never went beyond the boundaries of San Damiano during that time. There are few details known about St. Clare’s life in the cloister “hidden with Christ in God”. It is known that she became a living copy of the poverty, the humility, and the mortification of St. Francis. She had a special devotion to the Holy Eucharist, and in order to increase her love for Christ crucified she learned by heart the Office of the Passion composed by St. Francis, and that during the time that remained to her after her devotional exercises she engaged in manual labor. Under St. Clare’s guidance the community of San Damiano became the sanctuary of every virtue, a virtual nursery of saints. Clare had the supreme pleasure not only of seeing her younger sister Beatrix, her mother Ortolana, and her faithful Aunt Bianca follow Agnes into the order, but also of witnessing the foundation of monasteries of Poor Clares throughout Europe. St. Clare had a huge influence towards guiding the women “of her time” to higher goals. St. Clare and St. Francis promoted the spirit of unworldliness, which was to bring about a restoration of discipline and morals in the Church and civilization of people living in
Clare’s most important work, however, was the help and encouragement she gave St. Francis. It was commonly known in the region that Clare was the most faithful of all of Francis’ followers. Many stories reflect the loving bonds of friendship between them and the trust that Francis placed in her wisdom and counsel. It was Clare he turned to when in doubt, and it was she who encouraged him to continue his mission to the people when he thought his “calling” was a life of contemplation. During a period of depression, Francis camped out in a hut outside the convent at San Damiano and composed “The Canticle of Brother Sun.” When Francis received the stigmata, Clare thoughtfully made him soft slippers to cover his wounded feet.
When Francis felt the approach of Sister Death, Clare suffered terribly at the thought she would not see him again, in this life. After Francis’s death the brothers brought his body to San Damiano for the Sisters to view. Thomas of Celano, records that at the sight of his poor lifeless body Clare was “filled with grief and wept aloud.” Francis was canonized a mere two years later. Clare lived on for another twenty-seven years dying at the age of sixty. Just before her death Clare wrote, she had worked and prayed for over forty years to be “transformed into the image of God through contemplation…in order to taste the hidden sweetness God has kept from the beginning for those who love him.”