Clare of Assisi – Paradiso Ceramics Australia | Handmade in Italy


Clare of Assisi

Not far from the main piazza in the ancient town of Assisi is the Basilica of Santa Chiara (Saint Clare), a striking church featuring bands of white and pink stone from nearby Mount Subasio.

The basilica of Saint Clare in Assisi is built from pink and white stone from Mount Subasio

Christians recently celebrated Palm Sunday, marking the start of Holy Week and commemorating Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem when crowds welcomed Him by laying down palm branches on his path, symbolizing honor and victory.

Palm Sunday was significant in the life of Saint Clare, the founder of the Order of Poor Ladies (or Clares), as it was on the evening of this ancient celebration in 1212 that she joined the followers of Saint Francis.

Detail depicting Saint Clare from a fresco (c. 1320) by Simone Martini in the Lower basilica of San Francesco, Assisi

Born in Assisi to a wealthy family, from an early age Clare was devoted to prayer. She was eighteen years old when Francis came to preach the Lenten course in the church of San Giorgio in Assisi.

Francis' inspired words of poverty kindled a flame in the heart of Clare; she sought him out secretly and begged him to help her that she too might live "after the manner of the holy Gospel". St. Francis promised to assist her.

On the night of Palm Sunday, Clare escaped from her father’s home and was met on the road by friars carrying torches. They took her to a tiny chapel called the Portiuncula where she exchanged her rich garments for a rough woolen habit and sacrificed her long tresses to Francis’ scissors. He then placed her in a convent of Benedictine nuns.

St Francis and St Clare by Giotto Di Bondone

Her father and other members of her family attempted to convince her to return home. Finally, when they tried to use force, she clung to the altar of the church and threw aside her veil to show her cropped hair. It was only after seeing this symbol of her determination to live the life of a nun that her family left her in peace.

St. Clare of Assisi, detail from a fresco by Giotto; in the Bardi Chapel of Santa Croce, Florence.

Soon her younger sister Agnes joined her and others too. Francis obtained from the Benedictines the chapel of San Damiano, situated just outside Assisi and essentially rebuilt with his own hands. He hastily built a small dwelling next to it as a permanent abode for his spiritual daughters. This religious community came to be known as the Order of Poor Ladies, or Poor Clares.

San Damiano chapel and convent is just outside the city walls of Assisi

The nuns lived a simple life of great poverty and complete seclusion from the world. At first they went barefoot, slept on the ground, ate no meat, and observed almost complete silence. Later Clare persuaded her sisters to moderate this severe way of life.

St. Clare of Assisi with nuns of her order, fresco from the church of San Damiano, near Assisi, Italy

Perhaps the best-known miracle attributed to St Clare is the defense of her monastery and the town of Assisi from an invading army. As soldiers scaled the walls of the monastery, she held aloft the Blessed Sacrament and prayed for God’s protection. Her adversaries immediately fell back as if stunned and broke off the attack.

Many paintings and statues of Clare show her holding up the chalice containing the Host, such as the statue in the garden at San Damiano.

Statue of Saint Clare in the garden at San Damiano

Clare was the most famous of St Francis’ proteges. She played a significant role in encouraging and aiding Francis, whom she saw as a spiritual father figure, and took care of him during his final illness.

In her later years, Clare endured a long period of poor health. She died on 11 August 1253 at the age of 59, one day after having her Rule approved by Pope Innocent IV. Clare is buried in the beautiful Santa Chiara basilica, built in her honour and completed in 1260.

For those visiting Assisi, a town rich in religious history, St. Clare's church is a must-see destination. This sacred site pays homage to St. Clare and her devotion to God and acts of charity.

Saint Clare's church dominates at western end of Assisi

Just a short distance outside the city walls lies the serene chapel and convent of San Damiano. This peaceful retreat holds special significance as it was here that St. Francis of Assisi received his calling from God to "rebuild my Church." Visitors can experience a sense of tranquility and reflection amidst the beautiful surroundings.

Central courtyard of San Damiano convent, Assisi

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