SAINT CLARE OF ASSISI
Foundress and Abbess
On Palm Sunday, March 19, 1212, a maiden eighteen years of age left her rich and noble family to retire for her reception as a religious to the little church of the Portiuncula. This maiden was Saint Clare. Already she had learned from Saint Francis to scorn the world, and was secretly resolved to live for God alone. There she was met by Saint Francis and his brethren, and at the altar of Our Lady, Saint Francis cut off her hair, clothed her in the habit of penance, a piece of sackcloth, with a cord as a cincture. Thus was she espoused to Christ. Saint Francis placed her for the moment in a Benedictine convent.
It was in a tiny house outside Assisi that she founded her Order. Two weeks after Clare's consecration, her sister Agnes left home secretly to go to join her, at the age of fourteen years. Agnes succeeded in her intention, despite their father's strong opposition and a convoy of twelve men who attempted to take her back home by force. While Clare prayed in the convent, Agnes became so heavy they were unable to move her. Later their mother and other noble ladies joined them. They went barefoot, observed perpetual abstinence, constant silence, and perfect poverty.
Saint Clare is celebrated for a miracle which occurred when the Saracen army of Frederick II was ravaging the valley of Spoleto. A legion of infidels advanced to assault the convent outside Assisi. The Saint, who was ill in the infirmary, rose and went, supported by her religious, to the door of the convent; there she had the Blessed Sacrament placed in a monstrance above the gate of the monastery facing the enemy. She knelt before it and prayed, "Deliver not to beasts, O Lord, the souls of those who confess Your Name!" A voice from the Host replied, "My protection will never fail you." A sudden panic seized the infidel army, which took flight; and the Saint's convent was spared.
Although Saint Clare herself never left her monastery of Saint Damian, her Order spread in many places not only in Europe but elsewhere, and some four thousand convents, divided into several branches, shelter her disciples. Many Saints have come from these, especially from the groups which have maintained the original absolute poverty of her Constitutions. The Sisters of the original Order live by charity, and their convents possess nothing. Saint Clare died in 1253, as the Passion was being read, and Our Lady and the Angels conducted her to glory.