Clare of Assisi (ca. 1193–1253) was the founder of the Second Order of Francis, the Poor Clares. Clare was born during the time of the Crusades in the age of the Holy Roman Empire. Educated, attractive, and wealthy, she seemed destined to marry well and increase her family’s power and prestige. But God led Clare in another direction.
At age eighteen, Clare heard Francis (then about thirty) preach in San Giorgino Church in Assisi. Determined to follow Francis, Clare secretly left her parents’ home. She donned coarse clothes and Francis cut her long hair, symbolizing her total gift of self to Christ.
Being the only woman among Francis’s followers, Clare was placed in a Benedictine convent, where the sisters trained her in living the religious life. Within days, her fifteen-year old sister, Agnes, joined her, along with others. Francis organized Clare and her associates into a separate order, wrote a basic rule for them, and housed them at San Damiano. Unlike their male counterparts, the Poor Clares lived within an enclosed convent. Devoted to a life of poverty and living only on alms, the Poor Clares remained firm in their rigorous conviction to bind themselves to Christ.
Clare’s spiritual writings include her own rule for the order and some personal letters. From these we meet a woman for whom poverty was a privilege; that is, she saw all Poor Clares as “patterns and mirrors for those who live in the world.” Therefore, in imitation of her Lord, neither she nor her cloistered sisters needed protection from suffering or from the harsh realities of their penitential life. Clare had to fight attempts to make her community less severe. Under Clare’s spiritual leadership, additional Poor Clare communities developed throughout Europe. Clare died twenty-seven years after Francis, a few days after receiving word of approval for her rule.
For more on Clare of Assisi, see Writings of Francis and Clare, Upper Room Spiritual Classics Series, ed. Keith Beasley-Topliffe. The influential religious orders founded by St. Francis (Franciscans) and St. Clare (Poor Clares) continue to do vital work to this day. Included in this volume are biographical vignettes of Francis and Clare as well as prayers, letters, and other spiritually rich writings from their remarkable lives.