Clare of Assisi: a ‘Little Plant’ or a unique woman?

TSSF Study Week, Alnmouth Friary, 23rd – 27th October 2006

A paper by Leslie Johnson.

Clare of Assisi’s historical legacy has been to describe her as la pianticella, the little plant, of Francis of Assisi. Indeed, Clare describes herself as being exactly that, as, for example, in her Form of Life: ‘…Clare, the unworthy handmaid of Christ and the little plant of the most blessed Father Francis…’

But if one wanted to obtain an understanding of the life of Clare of Assisi, an obvious place to start may be the official Church statements about her. Thus, the Church of England’s Common Worship describes her as: ‘Founder of the Minoresses (Poor Clares)’; the Roman Catholic Daily Roman Missal explains that ‘She founded the Order of Poor Clares’; and an Anglican First Order Brother (Brother Ramon) states that she was ‘…Abbess of the Second Order of Poor Clares.’ The problem with all of those statements is that they are totally wrong. The Order of St Clare (the Poor Clares) was not founded until ten years after her death in 1263 by order of Pope Urban IV.

But that is nothing new. Since her death in 1253, many adjectives have been appended to the name of Clare of Assisi: ‘Saint’, ‘little plant’ and ‘crystal’ are just some of the more common examples. But, this paper argues that such terms hide the ‘real’ Clare. In order to develop this thesis this paper sketches a short biography of Clare in section 2; reflects upon Clare’s spirituality, as expressed in her writings, in section 3; and considers what happened to her community after her death, and the evidence it provides, if any, for supporting thecontention that Clare was unique in section 4. Finally, some conclusions are offered.

Clare of Assisi: a ‘Little Plant’ or a unique woman? – PDF