Clare’s Turning Point

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The Porziuncola

1.23.The Porziuncola was again a venue for an important landmark in the early Franciscan history in 1211. During the night of 18-19 March Clare escaped from her family’s house in Assisi and managed to go out of the town gates and proceed to the Porziuncola. It seems that a plan was carefully worked out between her and Francis, with the approval of the bishop Guido. That Sunday was Palm Sunday, and Clare took part in the celebration of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, in the cathedral church. When everybody was in bed she set out to execute her plan of escape. For months she had been meeting Francis secretly to tell him that she wanted to join his movement. So they finally decided to put their plans into action. Clare was met by Francis at the Porziuncola. There she let him cut her golden tresses at the foot of the altar of the Virgin Mary. She changed her noble garments and put on the habit of penance. Francis sent her together with some friars to a secure refuge, the female Benedictine monastery of San Paolo delle Abbadesse in Bastia Umbra. Her family would come demanding her return, but in that place she was protected by a papal intedict upon any outsider who ventured into the nun’s quarters. After a short time Clare passed to another Benedictine monastery, Sant’Angelo di Panzo, on the foothills of Mount Subasio. There she was joined by her sister Caterina. Her uncle Monaldo came over to drag Caterina back home by force, but his plan did not succeed. Clare and her sister, who changed her name to Agnese, were sent by Francis to San Damiano. As he had predicted, it was here that the Order of the Poor Ladies of San Damiano was founded. In this small chapel and adjacent monastery Clare and her sisters lived a cloistered life, but without any property or possessions. Until 11 August 1253, the day of her death, Clare never left San Damiano. There she asked two Popes to confirm the Privilege of Poverty for her sisters. There she was joined by her mother Ortolana, and her other sister Beatrice. At San Damiano she received the final approval of her Rule, modelled upon that of the Friars Minor, just two days before she died, praising God for having created her.

1.24.Clare’s life of contemplation was complementary to the active apostolic life of Francis and the brothers. However one should not be led to think that Francis did not cherish the contemplative life. He spent long months in solitude, normally with a small group of brothers, in one of the many hermitages he founded in the Italian Appennines. The most famous of these is probably the hermitage of Le Carceri, on Mount Subasio, above Assisi. Francis also wrote a short Rule for those brothers who lived in hermitages. On 8 May 1213 Francis was at San Leo, a mediaeval castle quite close to San Marino. There he was approached by a certain Count Orlando of Chiusi, in Tuscany, who offered to him and the brothers a mountain called La Verna, in the Casentino. Francis gladly accepted the offer because La Verna provided an ideal place for a hermitage. The mountain was to witness the event of the stigmatisation of Francis in September 1224.

Clare’s hair as preserved at San Damiano

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Text by Fr. Noel Muscat ofm


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