The 'other Francis': The radical Christian legacy of St Clare of Assisi

Many know of and adore the figure of St Francis of Assisi, the medieval preacher venerated across the world. But how many know of his protégée – a woman who so dedicated her life to the saint's ideals that she became known as 'another Francis'?

Clare of Assisi was a radical, pioneering and devoted nun committed to a life of poverty and prayer, who continues to inspire today.

Wikimedia CommonsSt Clare of Assisi saving a child from a wolf, in a painting by Giovanni di Paolo.

Her life began with a rebellion. Born in 1194, at age 12 Clare's wealthy family were pressuring her to marry. But Clare ran way, and inspired by a sermon she had heard from Francis of Assisi, sought the religious life in a convent. She cut off her hair and exchanged her elegant gown for a humble robe.

Even when her father sent armed men to bring Clare (and her sister) home, she refused to comply. She declared that she would have no husband other than Jesus Christ.

Francis himself would provide refuge for Clare – he put her in charge of a group of Benedictine nuns, and so began the Order of the Poor Ladies, later to be known as the Order of Saint Clare.

The order attracted many women, even though the convent existence was not easy. It was an austere, impoverished, often silent life of hard labour and prayer apart from the world. Such was her commitment to poverty in pursuit of Christ, Clare insisted – against opposition – that her order would never own any possessions. Clare is believed to have the first woman to write monastic guidelines for an order.

She remained devoted to Francis and looked after him in his old age until he died. She was so close to Francis in her life and worksthat she would be often known as alter Franciscus, or 'another Francis'.

At least one dramatic miracle is claimed during her lifetime. In 1224, a group of armed soldiers came to attack the town of Assisi. Clare approached the men with only the Blessed Sacrament in her hands. She prayed for her sisters, and a sudden terror overcame the soldiers and sent them fleeing, causing harm to no one.

After suffering illness for many years, Clare died on August 11, 1253 at age 59. She went on to be canonized as a Saint in the Catholic Church, and is remembered for her radical commitment to poverty.

She once said: 'They say that we are too poor, but can a heart which possesses the infinite God be truly called poor?'