FIOR (Franciscan Institute Outreach - Malta)

5. Sources: life of St. Clare (3)

Part III

Letter of Cardinal Hugolino (1220)

5.8 The LegCl, 27, states: "Not without reason, Lord Pope Gregory had marvelous faith in the prayers of this holy woman whose efficacious power he had experienced. Frequently when some new difficulties arose, as is natural, both when he was Bishop of Ostia and, later, when he was elevated to the Apostolic See, he would request assistance of that virgin by means of a letter and would experience her help". We have two letters written by Hugolino. One of them was written in 1220, when Hugolino was Cardinal Protector of the Friars Minor and the Poor Ladies, most probably after Francis' return from the Orient. In this letter Hugolino shows that he had spent the Holy Week at San Damiano with the Poor Ladies, and asks Clare to pray for him. The other letter was written in 1228, when Hugolino became Pope Gregory IX.

St. Clare

Canticle of Exhortation "Audite, poverelle"

5.9 Francis spent the early spring months at San Damiano in 1225. It was on this occasion that he composed the Canticle of Creatures (see Writings of St. Francis). It was probably also on this occasion that Francis wrote a Canticle of Exhortation to the Poor Ladies. It begins with the words "Audite, poverelle", and was found and critically analysed by Giovanni Boccali OFM in 1976. A proof of its existence is given by the Legend of Perugia 45 (Omnibus of Sources, 1024-1025): "At the same time and in the same friary, blessed Francis, after having composed the Praises of the Lord for his creatures, dictated a canticle, words and music, for the consolation of the Poor Ladies of the monastery of San Damiano".

Last Will Given by Saint Francis to Clare and the Poor Ladies (1226)

5.10 This short note was also inserted by Clare in Chapter 6 of her Rule, together with the FormViv. This note is truly the last will of Francis, who was nearing death and could not visit Clare personally. In the UltVol, Francis stresses the ideal of evangelical poverty modelled upon that of Christ, and urges Clare and the Poor Ladies never to depart from this ideal. Clare was to cherish these words to the very end of her life, and to the point of seeing her own Rule confirmed by the Pope.

Letter of Gregory IX (1228)

5.11 On 19 March 1227 Cardinal Hugolino was elected Pope and took the name of Gregory IX. One of this foremost preoccupations was that of canonising Francis of Assisi, who had died on 3 October 1226. It was probably during the ceremonies marking the canonisation of St. Francis, on 16 July 1226, that Gregory addressed this letter to Clare, calling her by the title of Abbess, and indicating the Poor Ladies as a community of Enclosed Nuns. The letter is not a legislative text, but contains references to the mystical espousals of Clare and the Poor Ladies with the Trinity. The Pope asks Clare to pray for him in his difficult task.

Letter of Cardinal Rainaldus (1228)

5.12 Rainaldus dei Conti Segni was from the same noble family as Innocent III and Gregory IX, who was his uncle. Rainaldus was to become Pope Alexander IV (1254-1261). He would canonise Clare in Anangni in 1255. When he accompanied Cardinal Hugolino, who was Papal Legate in Tuscany and Lombardy, he came to know the Poor Ladies of San Damiano. Gregory IX was to make him Cardinal Protector of the Poor Ladies. This letter is dated 18 August 1228 and was written in Perugia. It is a very interesting document, since it gives a list of all monasteries of the Poor Ladies in central Italy, thus indicating the spreading of the Second Franciscan Order in a relatively short period of time. It also mentions Brothers Pacificus and Filippo Longo, who were Visitators to the Poor Ladies.

St. Clare

Privilege of Poverty given by Pope Gregory IX (17 September 1228)

5.13 When Cardinal Hugolino became Pope Gregory IX, Clare asked him to renew and reconfirm the Privilege of Poverty given to her and the Poor Ladies in 1216 by Innocent III. The present document was given on 17 September 1228 and is an abbreviated form of the original Privilege of Poverty of 1216. Clare was thus assured of the Church's official recognition of her radical choice of evangelical poverty, even though Gregory IX did not always fully understand the concrete implications of this document, and granted exemptions to other monasteries which tried to follow the form of life of the Poor Ladies of San Damiano.

1 Celano regarding Clare and the Poor Ladies (1228)

5.14 We have already presented a short biographical note of Friar Thomas of Celano in the lecture regarding the Sources for the Life of St. Francis. In 1 Cel we have some interesting notes regarding Clare and the Poor Ladies. In paragraphs 18-20 Celano speaks about the foundation of the Order of Poor Ladies of San Damiano, about Clare's noble origins and the nobleness of her soul, about the fact that between forty and fifty sisters were living at San Damiano in 1228. He extols the virtues of Clare, namely, charity, humility, virginity, poverty, abstinence, silence, patience, and contemplation. Paragraphs 116-117 speak about the funeral procession of Francis on Sunday 4 October 1226, which paused for a few moments at San Damiano on its way up to the church of San Giorgio in Assisi, where the saint was temporarily buried. The biographer describes this procession as a festive occasion, and indicates the little window through which Clare and the Poor Ladies received the Eucharist as the place where Francis' corpse was shown to them for the last farewell. The questions and exclamations posed by the Poor Ladies are written in the typical style of Celano who borrowed from Sulpicius Severus' "Vita Sancti Martini". Celano also refers to the fact that Clare and the Poor Ladies could admire and kiss Francis' stigmata.

Letter of Saint Agnes of Assisi to Her Sister Saint Clare (1230)

5.15 Agnes was the younger sister of Clare. Her name was Caterina. Agnes was her name as a religious. She was the first to join Clare at Sant'Angelo di Panzo in 1212. Agnes was sent as an abbess to the new monastery of the Poor Ladies in Monticelli, Florence. This letter was probably written about 1230. It is the only letter which survived of the correspondence which certainly was being sent between Clare and Agnes. In it Agnes pours out her immense sorrow at being physically separated from her dear Sister Clare and the other Sisters of San Damiano. It is a very touching letter, which expresses the human aspect of the cloistered life of the Poor Ladies. Agnes was able to see Clare in 1253, before Clare died. Agnes died soon after, in San Damiano, on 16 November 1253, according to a widely accepted tradition. The LegCl 48, states that "after a few days, Agnes, called to the wedding feast of the Lamb, followed her sister to the eternal delights".

Mandate (8 June 1238)

5.16 This is an interesting document, discovered by the famous Assisi historian Arnaldo Fortini, author of "Nuova Vita di San Francesco", in the Assisi archives. The document, however, was already known by Luke Wadding, who published it in the "Annales Minorum", ad ann. 1238. It mentions a deed drawn up by Clare and the Poor Ladies to have a procurator who would sell in their name a small plot of land to the Cathedral Chapter of San Rufino in Assisi. The Mandate contains the names of 49 Sisters, thus giving us an idea of the community of San Damiano during this period.

St. Clare and St. Elisabeth of Hungary

Anonymous of Perugia regarding Clare and the Poor Ladies

5.17 The Legend known as the "Anonymous of Perugia", found in a manuscript in the conventual library of the San Francesco friary of Perugia, is closely linked to the Legend of the Three Companions, which seemingly depends upon it. Historians are not in agreement regarding its date of composition. The general opinion is that it was written between the LegMaj of St. Bonaventure (1260-1263) and the "Liber de laudibus S. Francisci" of Bernard of Besse (c. 1279). Other historians prefer an earlier date. In his presentation of the Sources of St. Clare's life, R.J. Armstrong prefers the date 1240-1241 and individuates the anonymous author of the Legend in the person of John of Perugia, a companion of Brother Giles. The AnonPer speaks about Clare and the Poor Ladies in paragraph 41, where it states: "In the same way many women, virgins and those not having husbands, after hearing their preaching, came to them with sorrowful hearts and said: `What shall we do? We cannot be with you. Tell us, therefore, how we can save our souls'. For this reason they established monasteries of recluses for doing penance in every city in which they could. They also appointed one of the brothers to be their visitator and corrector".

Legend of the Three Companions regarding Clare and the Poor Ladies

5.18 Regarding the presentation of the L3S confer the lecture about the Sources for the Life of St. Francis. The L3S 24 has an interesting detail regarding the Poor Ladies of San Damiano, which Clare herself mentions in her Testament 12-14. It could be that the L3S took the information from Clare's own mouth. Here we reproduce the text in the L3S: "While he was continuing with some other workers in that project mentioned above, Francis used to call with a loud voice in the joy of the Spirit to those living near or passing by the church and would say to them in French: `Come and help me in this project for the church of San Damiano which will be in the future a monastery of women by whose fame and life our heavenly Father will be glorified throughout the entire Church'. In that way, filled with the spirit of prophecy, he actually predicted the future. For this is that sacred place in which the glorious religion and most excellent order of Poor Ladies and sacred virgins had its joyful origin because of Blessed Francis, scarcely six years after his conversion".

The Assisi Compilation regarding Clare and the Poor Ladies

5.19 The "Legenda antiqua S. Francisci" or "Compilatio Assisiensis" has an important place among the non-official Sources for the life of St. Francis, as has been illustrated in the lecture concerning these Sources, to which we refer the reader. The references to Clare and the Poor Ladies are found in paragraphs 45 and 109. In LegPer 45 we have a description of Francis' presence at San Damiano in the first months of 1225, when he composed the Canticle of Creatures, and the CantExh for Clare and the Poor Ladies (see text above, in the CantExh). In Leg109 we come to know of a letter which Francis, who was dying, wrote to Clare during her illness. Unfortunately the contents of this letter were lost, and we only know of its existence through the Assisi Compilation. The same text mentions the funeral procession of Francis, which stopped at San Damiano so that the Poor Ladies might see their Blessed Father for the last time.


© copyright FIOR-Malta
Text by Fr. Noel Muscat ofm


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