CLARES, POOR, otherwise Clarisses, Franciscan nuns, so called from their foundress, St Clara (q.v.). She was professed by St Francis in the Portiuncula in 1212, and two years later she and her first companions were established in the convent of St Damian's at Assisi. The nuns formed the "Second Order of St Francis," the friars being the "First Order," and the Tertiaries (q.v.) the "Third." Before Clara's death in 1253, the Second Order had spread all over Italy and into Spain, France and Germany; in England they were introduced c. 1293 and established in London, outside Aldgate, where their name of Minoresses survives in the Minories; there were only two other English houses before the Dissolution. St Francis gave the nuns no rule, but only a "Form of Life" and a "Last Will," each only five lines long, and coming to no more than an inculcation of his idea of evangelical poverty. Something more than this became necessary as soon as the institute began to spread; and during Francis's absence in the East, 1219, his supporter Cardinal Hugolino composed a rule which made the Franciscan nuns practically a species of unduly strict Benedictines, St Francis's special characteristics being eliminated. St Clara made it her life work to have this rule altered, and to get the Franciscan character of the Second Order restored; in 1247 a "Second Rule" was approved which went a long way towards satisfying her desires, and finally in 1253 a "Third," which practically gave what she wanted. This rule has come to be known as the "Rule of the Clares"; it is one of great poverty, seclusion and austerity of life. Most of the convents adopted it, but several clung to that of 1247. To bring about conformity, St Bonaventura, while general (1264), obtained papal permission to modify the rule of 1253, somewhat mitigating its austerities and allowing the convents to have fixed incomes, - thus assimilating them to the Conventual Franciscans as opposed to the Spirituals. This rule was adopted in many convents, but many more adhered to the strict rule of 1253. Indeed a counter-tendency towards a greater strictness set in, and a number of reforms were initiated, introducing an appalling austerity of life. The most important of these reforms were the Coletines (St Colette, c. 1400) and the Capucines (c. 1540; see Capuchins). The half-dozen forms of the Franciscan rule for women here mentioned are still in use in different convents, and there are also a great number of religious institutes for women based on the rule of the Tertiaries. By the term "Poor Clares" the Coletine nuns are now commonly understood; there are various convents of these nuns, as of other Franciscans, in England and Ireland. Franciscan nuns have always been very numerous; there are now about 150 convents of the various observances of the Second Order, in every part of the world, besides innumerable institutions of Tertiaries.
See Helyot, Hist. des ordres religieux (1792), vii. cc. 25-28 and 38-42; Wetzer and Welte, Kirchenlexikon (2nd ed.), art. "Clara"; Max Heimbucher, Orden und Kongregationen (1896), i. §§ 47, 48, who gives references to all the literature. For a scientific study of the beginnings see Lempp, "Die Anfänge des Klarissenordens" in Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte, xiii. (1892), 181 ff.
(E. C. B.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)