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Published by: Princess Mayuga on Sep 07, 2010
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St. Clare of Assisi
Cofoundress of theOrder of Poor Ladies, or Clares, and first Abbessof San Damiano; born at Assisi, 16 July, 1194; died there 11 August, 1253.She was the eldest daughter of Favorino Scifi, Count of Sasso-Rosso, thewealthyrepresentative of anancient Romanfamily, who owned a large palace in Assisiand a castle on the slope of Mount Subasio. Such at least is the traditional account. Her mother, Bl. Ortolana, belonged to the noblefamilyof Fiumiand was conspicuous for her zealandpiety. From her earliest years Clare seems to have been endowed with the rarestvirtues. As a child she wasmost devoted toprayer and to practices of mortification, and as she passed into girlhood her distaste for  the world and her yearning for a more spiritual life increased. She was eighteen years of age whenSt.Franciscame to preach theLentencourse in thechurchof San Giorgio at Assisi. The inspired words of  the
kindled a flame in the heart of Clare; she sought him out secretly and begged him to helpher that she too might live "after the manner of theholy Gospel".St. Francis, who at once recognized in Clare one of those chosensoulsdestined byGodfor great things, and who also, doubtless, foresaw that many would follow her example, promised to assist her. OnPalm SundayClare, arrayed in all her finery,attended highMassat thecathedral, but when the others pressed forward to thealtar-railto receive abranch of palm, she remained in her place as if rapt in a dream. All eyes were upon the young girl as thebishopdescended from thesanctuaryand placed thepalmin her hand. That was the lasttimethe world beheld Clare. On the night of the same day she secretly left her father's house, bySt.Francis'sadvice and, accompanied by her aunt Bianca and another companion, proceeded to thehumblechapelof thePorziuncula, whereSt. Francisand hisdisciplesmet her withlightsin their hands. Clare then laid aside her rich dress, andSt. Francis, having cut off her hair , clothed her in a rough tunic and a thick veil, and in this way the young heroinevowedherself to the service of Jesus Christ. This was 20 March, 1212.Clare was placed bySt. Francisprovisionally with theBenedictine nunsof San Paolo, near Bastia, but her father, who had expected her to make a splendidmarriage, and who wasfuriousat her secret flight, on discovering her retreat, did his utmost to dissuade Clare from her heroic proposals, and even tried todrag her home byforce. But Clare held her own with a firmness above her years, and Count Favorinowas finally obliged to leave her in peace. A few days later St. Francis, in order to secure Clare the greater solitude she desired, transferred her to Sant' Angelo in Panzo, another monasteryof theBenedictine nunson one of the flanks of Subasio. Here some sixteen days after her own flight, Clare was joined by her younger sister  Agnes, whom she was instrumental in delivering from thepersecutionof  their infuriatedrelatives. Clare and her sister remained with thenunsat Sant' Angelo until they and the other fugitives from the world who had followed them were established bySt. Francisin a rude dwellingadjoining the poor chapelof San Damiano, situated outside the town which he had to a great extentrebuilt with his own hands, and which he now obtained from theBenedictinesas a permanent abode for his spiritual daughters. Thus was founded the first community of the Order of Poor Ladies, or of Poor Clares, as this second order of St. Francis came to be called.The history of thePoor Clareswill be dealt with in a separate article. Here it suffices to note that we maydistinguish, during the lifetime of St. Clare, three stages in the complicated early history of the new order.In the beginning St. Clare and her companions had no written rule to follow beyond a very short
given them bySt. Francis, and which may be found among his works. Some years later, apparentlyin 1219, duringSt. Francis'sabsence in the East,Cardinal Ugolino, thenprotector of the order, afterwardsGregory IX, drew up a written rule for theClaresat Monticelli, taking as a basis theRule of St. Benedict, retaining the fundamental points of the latter and adding some special constitutions. This newrule, which, in effect if not in intention, took away from theClarestheFranciscancharacter of  absolutepovertyso dear to the heart of St. Francisand made them for all practical purposes a congregation of Benedictines, was approved byHonorius III(Bull, "Sacrosancta", 9 Dec., 1219). When
Clare found that the new rule, though strict enough in other respects, allowed the holding of propertyincommon, shecourageouslyand successfully resisted the innovations of Ugolinoas being entirely opposed to the intentions of St. Francis. The latter had forbidden thePoor Ladies, just as he had forbidden hisfriarsto possess anyworldly goodseven in common. Owning nothing, they were to depend entirety upon what theFriars Minor could beg for them. This complete renunciation of allpropertywas however regarded byUgolinoas unpractical for cloistered women. When, therefore, in 1228, he came to Assisifor thecanonizationof St. Francis(having meanwhile ascended thepontifical throneasGregory IX), he visited St. Clare at San Damiano and pressed her to so far deviate from the practiceof povertywhich had up to thistimeobtained at San Damiano, as to accept some provision for the unforeseen wants of the community. But Clare firmly refused.Gregory, thinking that her refusal might bedue to fear of violating thevowof strictpovertyshe had taken, offered to absolve her from it. "Holy Father, I crave for absolutionfrom mysins", replied Clare, "but I desire not to be absolved from theobligationof followingJesus Christ". The heroic unworldliness of Clare filled thepopewith admiration, as hislettersto her, still extant, bear  eloquent witness, and he so far gave way to her views as to grant her on 17 September, 1228, thecelebrated
Privilegium Paupertatis
which some regard in the light of a corrective of the Rule of 1219. Theoriginal autograph copy of this unique"privilege"--the first one of its kind ever sought for, or ever issuedby theHoly See--is preserved in thearchiveat Santa Chiara in Assisi. The text is as follows: Gregory Bishop Servant of the Servants of God. To our beloved daughters inChristClare and the other  handmaids of Christdwelling together at theChurchof San Damiano in theDiocese of Assisi. Health and Apostolic benediction. It is evident that the desire of consecratingyourselves toGodalone has led you to abandon every wish for temporal things. Wherefore, after having sold all your goodsand havingdistributed them among thepoor , you propose to have absolutely no possessions, in order to follow in allthings the example of Him Who becamepoor and Who is the way, thetruth, and the life. Neither does the want of necessary things deter you from such a proposal, for the left arm of your Celestial Spouseisbeneath your head to sustain the infirmity of your body, which, according to the order of charity, you havesubjected to thelawof thespirit. Finally, He who feeds the birds of the air and who gives the lilies of the field their raiment and their nourishment, will not leave you in want of clothing or of food until He shallcome Himself to minister to you ineternitywhen, namely, the right hand of His consolations shallembrace you in the plenitude of theBeatific Vision. Since, therefore, you have asked for it, we confirm by Apostolic favour your resolution of the loftiestpovertyand by the authority of these presentlettersgrant that you may not be constrained by anyone to receive possessions. To no one, therefore, be it allowed toinfringe upon this page of our concession or to oppose it with rash temerity. But if anyone shall presumeto attempt this, be itknownto him that he shall incur the wrath of  Almighty Godand hisBlessed  Apostles,Peter andPaul. Given atPerugiaon the fifteenth of the Kalends of October in the second year  of our Pontificate."That St. Clare may have solicited a"privilege"similar to the foregoing at an earlier date and obtainedit
vivâ voce
, is not improbable.Certainit is that after the death of Gregory IXClare had once more to contend for the principle of absolutepovertyprescribed bySt. Francis, for Innocent IVwould fain have given the Clares a new and mitigated rule, and the firmness with which she held to her way won over thepope. Finally, two days before her death,Innocent, nodoubtat the reiterated request of the dyingabbess, solemnly confirmed the definitive Rule of theClares(Bull, "Solet Annuere", 9 August, 1253), and thus secured to them the precious treasure of povertywhich Clare, in imitation of St. Francis, had taken for her portion from the beginning of her conversion. The author of this latter rule, which islargely an adaptation
mutatis mutandis
, of the rule whichSt. Franciscomposed for theFriars Minor in 1223, seems to have been Cardinal Rainaldo,Bishopof Ostia, andprotector of the order, afterwards Alexander IV, though it is most likely that St. Clare herself had a hand in its compilation. Bethis as it may, it can no longer be maintained thatSt. Franciswas in any sense the author of this formalRule of the Clares; he only gave to St. Clare and her companions at the outset of their religious lifethebrief 
formula vivendi 
already mentioned.
St. Clare, who in 1215 had, much against her will been made superior at San Damiano bySt. Francis,continued to rule there asabbessuntil her death, in 1253, nearly forty years later. There is no goodreason tobelievethat she ever once went beyond the boundaries of San Damiano during all thattime. It need not, therefore, be wondered at if so comparatively few details of St. Clare's life in thecloister "hiddenwithChristinGod", have come down to us. Weknowthat she became a living copy of thepoverty, thehumility, and themortificationof St. Francis; that she had a special devotion to theHoly Eucharist, and that in order to increase her lovefor Christcrucified she learned by heart the Office of the Passion composed bySt. Francis, and that during thetimethat remained to her after her devotional exercisesshe engaged in manual labour. Needless to add, that under St. Clare's guidance the community of SanDamiano became thesanctuaryof everyvirtue, a very nursery of saints. Clare had the consolation not only of seeing her younger sister Beatrix, her mother Ortolana, and her faithful aunt Biancafollow Agnesinto the order, but also of witnessing the foundation of monasteriesof Claresfar and wide throughoutEurope. It would be difficult, moreover, to estimate how much the silent influence of thegentleabbessdid towards guiding thewomenof medieval Italyto higher aims. In particular, Clare threw aroundpovertythat irresistible charm which onlywomencan communicate toreligiousor civic heroism, and she became a most efficacious coadjutrix of St. Francisin promoting that spirit of unworldliness whichin the counsels of God, "was to bring about a restoration of disciplinein theChurchand of moralsand civilization in the peoples of WesternEurope". Not the least important part of Clare's work was the aid andencouragement she gaveSt. Francis. It was to her he turned when indoubt, and it was she who urged him to continue his mission to the people at a time when he thought hisvocationlay rather in a lifeof contemplation. When in an attack of blindness and illness,St. Franciscame for the last time to visit San Damiano, Clare erected a little wattle hut for him in an olive grove close to themonastery, and it was herethat he composed hisglorious"Canticle of the Sun". After St. Francis'sdeath theprocessionwhich accompanied hisremainsfrom thePorziunculato the town stopped on the way at San Damiano in order  that Clare and her daughters might venerate thepierced hands and feetof him who had formed them totheloveof Christcrucified--a pathetic scene whichGiottohas commemorated in one of his loveliest frescoes. So far, however, as Clare was concerned,St. Franciswas always living, and nothing is,perhaps, more striking in her after-life than her unswerving loyalty to the ideals of the
, and the jealous care with which she clung to his rule and teaching.When, in 1234, the army of Frederick IIwas devastating the valley of Spoleto, the soldiers, preparatory to an assault upon Assisi, scaled the walls of San Damiano by night, spreading terror among thecommunity. Clare, calmly rising from her sick bed, and taking theciboriumfrom the littlechapeladjoining her cell, proceeded to face the invaders at an openwindowagainst which they had already placed aladder. It is related that, as she raised theBlessed Sacramenton high, the soldiers who were about toenter themonasteryfell backward as if dazzled, and the others who were ready to follow them took flight.It is with reference to this incident that St. Clare is generally represented inartbearing aciborium. When, some time later, a larger force returned to storm Assisi, headed by the General Vitale di Aversawho had not been present at the first attack, Clare, gathering her daughters about her, knelt with them inearnestprayer that the town might be spared. Presently a furious storm arose, scattering the tents of thesoldiers in every direction, and causing such a panic that they again took refuge in flight. The gratitude of the Assisians, who with one accord attributed their deliverance to Clare'sintercession, increased their lovefor the "Seraphic Mother". Clare had long been enshrined in the hearts of the people, andtheir venerationbecame more apparent as, wasted by illness and austerities, she drew towards her end.Braveand cheerful to the last, in spite of her long and painful infirmities, Clare caused herself to beraised in bed and, thus reclining, says her contemporary biographer "she spun the finest thread for thepurpose of having it woven into the most delicate material from which she afterwards made more thanone hundredcorporals, and, enclosing them in a silkenburse, ordered them to be given to thechurchesin the plain and on the mountains of  Assisi". When at length she felt the day of her death approaching, Clare, calling her sorrowingreligiousaround her, reminded them of the many benefits theyhad received fromGodand exhorted them to persevere faithfully in the observance of evangelical poverty.Pope Innocent IVcame fromPerugiato visit the dyingsaint, who had already received the lastsacramentsfrom the hands of Cardinal Rainaldo. Her own sister,St. Agnes, had returned fromFlorenceto console Clare in her last illness;Leo, Angelo, and Juniper, three of the early companions

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