For centuries the life of Clare of Assisi was unknown. Today through the efforts of modern scholarship she takes her place in history as the first Franciscan woman.
This reflection focuses on the early life of Saint Clare and the world into which she was born.
Chiara di Favorone Offreduccio, or Clare of Assisi, was born in 1193 into a wealthy family. She was the eldest of three daughters. Her father, Favorone, was one of several powerful knights in his family. Clare’s mother, Ortolana, was of noble birth. She was known for her holiness, works of mercy, and in giving service to the poor. Ortolana had a strong and positive influence on her daughter. It was from her that Clare was formed in her faith.
Clare, whose name means light, was given this name by her mother. During her pregnancy, Ortolana prayed for a safe delivery due to the dangers of childbirth. While praying before a crucifix in this regard, she heard a voice telling her not to be afraid, for she would give birth to a light which would greatly illumine the world. When the baby was baptized in the Cathedral of San Rufino she received the name Clare.
Clare’s education was directed by her mother in the home as was the custom at that time and within her class. Here she learned to read and write. There is evidence of this in Clare’s writings which remain with us today. Clare was exposed to the music and literature of the era. She learned to sew and to do needlepoint. At a later time in her life she made altar linens for the churches in the area of Assisi.
Clare was born during the Middle Ages at a time when class system unequally separated people. She and her family were among the ‘majores’, the noble and wealthy citizens of Assisi. Clare lived within the confines of wealth, power and privilege. Yet from her earliest years, she grew in grace developing qualities of austerity, a deep desire for prayer and a love for the poor of the region. These qualities were to deepen within her as she drew closer to God living within the house of her father.
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