Clare, Who Lived in a Castle
It was Palm Sunday, March 20th, 1212, the day Clare determined to depart forever from her parents and the castle they called home. Distressed at the upset she would cause her family by following Francis into a life of poverty, she failed to get a palm leaf at the cathedral’s altar, as everyone else had done. Clare was conspicuous in both her finery and in her position as eldest daughter of Count Favorino.
The Bishop of Assisi, aware of the plan to defect from her life of privilege, also noticed Clare’s oversight. He descended from the sanctuary and, with all eyes now on both of them, gave a palm leaf to Clare where she sat in the congregation.
In the bishop’s face Clare saw approval. Bowing her head, she caressed the leaf and prayed with overflowing gratitude, “Hosanna, blessed be the name of the Lord!”
Late that night Clare tiptoed barefooted down the stairs of the castle, her heart beating wildly. She went to the secluded meeting place where her Aunt Bianca and cousin Pacifica, her escorts, were waiting. Through the door typically used only to carry out the dead, the three left the castle and descended Mount Subasio. The moon shone bright as a lantern as they traveled the short distance to the chapel of Portiuncula. The friars who lived there waited with lit torches, for all had been prearranged. One of them cried, “It is our Lord’s beloved Clare. She is here!”
Her face aglow, Clare approached Francis, who had met with her several times about her desire to serve the Lord. Francis smiled widely and gave her a modest embrace. “Bless you, Sister Clare, the Lord’s chosen.”
Clare had no words. She knelt before Francis in her ornate gown and lowered her head. Francis applied scissors to her long, brown hair. Clare’s joy was multiplied as her tresses dropped to the ground.
Having finished his work by shaving her head, Francis picked up the garment that had been prepared for Clare. “Dear sister, here is your frock.”
Clare went into the nearby hut where she removed her blue satin gown. As she put on her Franciscan robe and belt of rope, Clare felt as happy as any bride in a wedding dress.
Francis completed Clare’s new wardrobe by placing a thick veil on her head. He then prayed a blessing over her.
With the stars still glittering above, the whole group walked together to San Paolo, where Francis left Clare in the temporary charge of Benedictine nuns.
When Count Favorino learned of Clare’s secret departure, he was enraged because he planned to benefit from her marriage. He used his influence to discover her whereabouts. Before long, Count Favorino attempted to drag Clare by force from her sanctuary, for his attempts to persuade her had failed. She dropped to her knees and removed her veil. Seeing Clare’s shaved head, the Count accepted defeat and left, never to see her again.
Francis moved Clare -- who had been joined by her sister Agnes, to the further dismay of the family -- to the chapel of San Damiano. When Francis repaired the poor chapel years earlier, he had prophetically announced that beautiful sisters would be serving the Lord there one day. The location housed the first community of Poor Clares, an order which still exists today, tending to the sick and poor.
For the remainder of Clare’s life, she lived within the walls of San Damiano. Francis proceeded her in death, and his body was brought to her there so that she could pay her respects, which she did with many tears.
Clare, like Francis, served the Lord Jesus Christ with a passion so remarkable, the world took notice. They both were canonized and continue to inspire multitudes who know their stories of devotion. The heavenly mansions prepared by the Lord for them surely outshine any medieval castle.
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