St. Clare of Assisi was born in Assisi, 12 miles outside of Perugia, as the eldest daughter of Favorino Scifi, Count of Sasso-Rosso and his wife Ortolana. Ortolana was a very devout woman who had undertaken pilgrimages to Rome, Santiago de Compostela and the Holy Land. Later on in her life, Ortolana entered Clare's monastery.
On March 20, 1212, Clare's parents had decided she would marry a wealthy young man. In desperation Clare escaped her home and sought refuge with St. Francis, who received her into religious life.
Clare lived for a brief period in a nearby Benedictine monastery of nuns, San Paolo delle Abadesse, and then again for a short period at a house of female penitents, Sant'Angelo in Panza on Monte Subasio.
Clare and Agnes soon moved to the church of San Damiano, which Francis himself had rebuilt. Other women joined them there, and San Damiano became known for its radically austere lifestyle. The women were at first known as the "Poor Ladies".
San Damiano became the focal point for Clare's new religious order, which was known in her lifetime as the "Order of San Damiano." San Damiano was long thought to be the first house of this order, however, recent scholarship strongly suggests that San Damiano actually joined an existing network of women's religious houses organized 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 became known as the Order of Saint Clare.
Saint Clare miraculously intervenes to save a child from a wolf, in this panel by Giovanni di Paolo, 1455.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.
For a short period of time 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, who had 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 St 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 illnesses at the end of his life, until his death in 1226.
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 watered down the radical commitment to corporate poverty she had originally embraced. She did this despite the fact that she had endured a long period of poor health until her death. 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.
On August 9, 1253, the Papal bull Solet annure of Pope Innocent IV confirmed that Clare's Rule would serve as the governing rule for Clare's Order of Poor Ladies. Two days later, on August 11, Clare died at the age of 59. Her remains were interred at the chapel of San Giorgio while a church to hold her remains was being constructed.
Basilica of Saint Clare, Assisi.On August 15, 1255, Pope Alexander IV canonized Clare as Saint Clare of Assisi. Construction of the Basilica of Saint Clare was completed in 1260, and on October 3 of that year Clare's remains were transferred to the newly completed basilica where they were buried beneath the high altar. In further recognition of the saint, Pope Urban IV officially changed the name of the Order of Poor Ladies to the Order of Saint Clare in 1263.
Some 600 years later in 1872, Saint Clare's remains were transferred to a newly constructed shrine in the crypt of the Basilica of Saint Clare where they can still be seen today.
Pope Pius XII designated her as the patron saint of television in 1958, on the basis that when she was too ill to attend Mass, she had reportedly been able to see and hear it on the wall of her room. The Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) was founded by a Poor Clare nun, Mother Angelica.
In art, Clare is often shown carrying a monstrance or pyx, in commemoration of the time when she warded away the soldiers of Frederick II at the gates of her convent by displaying the Blessed Sacrament and kneeling in prayer.
Lake Saint Clair and the Saint Clair River in the Great Lakes region of North America were named on her feast day August 11, 1679. Mission Santa Clara, founded by Spanish missionaries in northern California in 1777, has given its name to the university, city, county, and valley in which it sits. Southern California's Santa Clara River is hundreds of miles to the south, and gave its name to the nearby city of Santa Clarita. Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico celebrates its Santa Clara Feast Day annually on August 11.
In the Tridentine Calendar her feast day is celebrated as a Double on August 11. It was changed to a Third-Class Feast in 1960 (see General Roman Calendar of 1962), and in the 1969 calendar became an obligatory Memorial celebrated on the day of her death, August 11. Although her body is no longer claimed to be incorrupt, her skeleton is displayed in Assisi.
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