When we look at some drawings or images of medieval saints, we could be fooled into thinking that perhaps because he was a monk or she was a nun that they are pious or gentle or easily fooled. In many cases that couldn’t be further from the truth. They were recognised for holiness but they were tough and were no push-overs. Many of them suffered, denied themselves food and sleep, others still lived in solitude, and still others were martyred. They were looked up to and relied upon by many people from far and wide and they had a wise word and a prayer for most people. They were also well able to be honest and some could shoot from the hip at the risk of being unpopular. St Clare of Assisi was one such woman. By the end of her life, bishops and even a Pope came around to her way of thinking.
Chiara Offreduccio was born into a noble family in Assisi on July 16th 1194. Her father was Favarone Sciffi, Count of Sasso-Rosso, and her mother was Ortolana. From a young age it was assumed that Clare was to marry in line with family tradition but at 18 years old she heard Francis of Assisi preaching and asked him could she follow him and live after the manner of the gospel. In March 1212 Francis received her into the order and placed her into the care of the Benedictine nuns of San Paolo. Her father made great efforts to get her out of the cloister and leave the order. Later she moved into a small church at San Damiano where she and her sisters stayed. They soon became known as the Poor Ladies of San Damiano and they lived a life of poverty and enclosure according to a rule given them by St. Francis of Assisi. This vow of poverty was something that was for Clare non-negotiable. It was called the ‘Privilegium Pauperitatis’ which meant that for the Poor Ladies, they guarded this grace to live in absolute poverty and not having to take possessions.
As a way of guarding the life they had chosen, a Roman Cardinal, Hugolino, was appointed ‘protector’ of the order. He later became Pope Gregory IX. As pope, he visited the Poor Ladies and was concerned about living such a hard and austere life and suggested relaxing the vow to live this privilege of poverty. Clare was a tough lady and was having none of it. For her and her sisters, poverty was just that, a privilege, which well lived, freed them from distractions in order to focus on following Jesus Christ.
Francis of Assisi guided the order until he died in 1226 and after his death, Clare became Abbess of San Damiano. She took Francis’ spirit as a good benchmark for the living of the religious life with her sisters in poverty and enclosure, and she fought off any attempt by church leaders to dispense her and the sisters from it. In 1224 the army of Frederick II came to plunder Assisi and the story goes that Clare came out of the enclosure and faced the Emperor down by holding the Monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament in her hands. The sight of this tenacious woman standing up to the Emperor was enough to scare him so much that the army fled, terrified, without harming anyone in the city.
On August 9th 1253, Pope Innocent IV, in a papal Bull, a document given to Clare called ‘Solet Annuere’ confirmed that her rule would serve as the governing rule for the Poor Ladies way of life. Never would anyone in the future be in danger of watering down the rule of the Poor Clares. Clare died two days later on August 11th, she was 59 years old. She was canonized Saint on September 26th 1255. In 1958 Pope Pius XII named St. Clare patron saint of television.