CLARA, SAINT (1194-1253), foundress of the Franciscan nuns, was born of a knightly family in Assisi in 1194. At eighteen she was so impressed by a sermon of St Francis that she was filled with the desire to devote herself to the kind of life he was leading. She obtained an interview with him, and to test her resolution he told her to dress in penitential sackcloth and beg alms for the poor in the streets of Assisi. Clara readily did this, and Francis, satisfied as to her vocation, told her to come to the Portiuncula arrayed as a bride. The friars met her with lighted candles, and at the foot of the altar Francis shore off her hair, received her vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and invested her with the Franciscan habit, 1212. He placed her for a couple of years in a Benedictine convent in Assisi, until the convent at St Damian's, close to the town, was ready. Her two younger sisters, and, after her father's death, her mother and many others joined her, and the Franciscan nuns spread widely and rapidly (see Clares, Poor). The relations of friendship and sympathy between St Clara and St Francis were very close, and there can be no doubt that she was one of the truest heirs of Francis's inmost spirit. After his death Clara threw herself wholly on the side of those who opposed mitigations in the rule and manner of life, and she was one of the chief upholders of St Francis's primitive idea of poverty (see Franciscans). She was the close friend of Brother Leo and the other "Companions of St Francis," and they assisted at her death. For forty years she was abbess at St Damian's, and the great endeavour of her life was that the rule of the nuns should be purged of the foreign elements that had been introduced, and should become wholly conformable to St Francis's spirit. She lived just long enough to witness the fulfilment of her great wish, a rule such as she desired being approved by the pope two days before her death on the 11th of August 1253.
The sources for her life are to be found in the Bollandist Acta Sanctorum on the 11th of August, and sketches in such Lives of the Saints as Alban Butler's. See also Wetzer und Welte, Kirchen-lexicon (2nd ed.), art. "Clara."
(E. C. B.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)