By Revd Canon Ian Morter
Friday 11th August is the day on which the Church remembers with thanksgiving the life of St Clare of Assisi. She is honoured as the founder of the Second Order of St Francis, the Poor Clares. Clare died on the 11th August in 1253, aged 59, having spent her life since the age of 18 in religious orders.
Chiara Offreduccio was born in 1194 into a noble family and through the influence of her mother was, from an early age, very devout. Her father wanted her to marry at the age of 12 but she persuaded him to defer the marriage until she was eighteen. In her teens Clare had heard St. Francis preach during a Lenten Service in the church of San Giorgio in Assisi. She was inspired by his teaching and knowing the day of her marriage approached she went to Francis and asked his advice on how to live her life more in keeping of the Gospels. It was on the evening of Palm Sunday in 1212 that with the permission of the Bishop of Assisi, Clare left the family home and accompanied by her aunt went to meet Francis in a near-by chapel. There, her hair was cut off and she exchanged her attire as a wealthy young noble woman for a simple gown and a veil. The symbolic cutting of a woman’s hair was a way of demonstrating that they were no longer under the laws of society or men but following the will of God. Francis suggested that Clare should enter the convent of the Benedictine nuns at San Paulo, Bastia. Later her sister Catarina joined her at the convent with the same intention of dedicating her life to Christ. It was there that their father and other members of the family visited the convent trying to convince them to return home. They tried to entice Claire with the promise of wealth and riches but she refused and told them that she would have no other husband but Jesus Christ. Removing her veil she revealed her cropped hair it was only then that her family left her and her sister (who took the religious name Agnes) in peace and returned home.
The two sisters remained within the Benedictine order until a new home was built for them next to the Church of San Damiano in Assisi, the very church that Francis had repaired some years earlier after the vision he received that God wanted him to rebuild his Church. It was in this house that other women joined the sisters, including their own mother, and were known as the ‘Poor Ladies of San Damiano’. They lived following the rule that Francis gave them, a life of poverty and austerity. A life which was secluded from the world, what we call an ‘enclosed order’. They became the Second Order of St. Francis known as the Poor Clares. This enclosed order was recognised by the Church just two days before Clare’s death in 1253 and has spread world-wide to every continent. St Clare was made a saint just two years after her death in 1255 by Pope Alexander IV.