Chiara ‘Clare’ Offreduccio was born in 1193 to Assisi nobility. Her deep love of God was cultivated within her family and at a young age she developed aspirations far greater than marriage or money. The desire to live a life of prayer and service deepened after she likely heard a young Francis Bernadone preaching throughout the city. His words encouraged her to follow her heart and her calling to the mendicant lifestyle he and his brothers had embraced. Clare fled from her family and comfortable home to join Francis and the friars and eventually established a religious order of women who became known as “The Poor Ladies.”
|Francis received her into religious life, trading her fine clothing for a coarse woolen garment with a rope as a belt. As a symbol of her religious commitment Francis cut Clare’s hair. Then for safety, he took her to a nearby Benedictine monastery where she hid from her family. Her father and uncles discovered her but were unable to force or persuade her to return to her former life. Clare then moved to a house of religious women on Monte Subasio. Her sister Agnes and later, their mother, Ortulana joined her. The three, with the other women who joined the movement later moved to their final home at San Damiano, the church that Francis himself had rebuilt.
The women lived a very simple, humble and austere life, their days revolving around prayer and penitence, manual labor and charity, while serving as comfort and inspiration to the people of Assisi. The power of their presence and prayer was credited for saving Assisi from invaders on more than one occasion.
It was unheard of at that time for women to move about the Italian countryside preaching and begging as Francis and his friars did, so Clare and her sisters lived in an enclosed cloistered space within the confines of San Damiano. The Poor Ladies became known as the Order of San Damiano and 10 years after Clare’s death in 1263 they would be known as the “Order of St. Clare.”
While Clare deliberately chose to live a quiet, contemplative life, it should not be mistaken for a passive one. She strove to imitate and incorporate the values and lifestyle of Francis on a personal and community level. She became Abbess at San Damiano in 1216 and struggled with a hierarchy that tried to impose rules similar to other monastic orders but were at odds with Francis’ austere and strict reliance on alms and a life of poverty. Clare worked tirelessly to change the rule with a formidable and impressive letter writing campaign. She recruited other abbesses throughout Europe and sent letters to church authorities, most especially the Pope. All of this was done while she labored alongside her sisters at San Damiano and while suffering from poor health. Just two days prior to Clare’s death, on August 9, 1253, Pope Innocent IV approved her rule as the rule for the “Order of Poor Ladies.”
Clare died on August 11, 1253 at the age of 59. On August 15, 1255 she was canonized a Saint by Pope Alexander IV. In 1263, Pope Urban IV officially changed the name of the order to the “Order of St. Clare.”
Clare and Francis remained staunch and loving friends until his death in 1226. Their relationship was deep and profound. They did not have a physical or sexual relationship, rather, the love they had for one another was a manifestation of the deep and abiding shared love they had for God. No doubt if Facebook existed in the 12th century their relationship status would have likely been “It’s Complicated.”
Clare was Francis’ confidant and Francis was Clare’s spiritual role model. They trusted one another implicitly and complemented one another with their personalities. When Francis doubted, Clare was able to reassure. When Clare felt discouraged, Francis was her comfort. They were true companions on a very radical, albeit simple journey. Clare and Francis lived the Gospel message of Jesus. They focused on the poor, they focused on the moment, and they exhibited a care for creation and the earth all the while loving others with humility and joy. Together they ignited a movement that celebrated and embraced women and men in a manner that until then was sorely missing in the church.
By Alexandria Egler