Memorial of St Chiara of Assisi

August 11th 2014

Simone Martini (Siena 1284 about – Avignone 1344)
Santa Chiara d’Assisi, 1322-26,  fresco, Assisi, Basilica of St Francis


This great saint, very famous for having been among the first to share the path of poverty of St Francis, has left few direct witnesses: four letters to Agnes from Boemia and her witness.

Many stories were shared about her and have been collected in Legend which Thomas from Celano  wrote  a couple of years after her death.

In this way we come to know her life had already been prefigured before her birth. Her mother, while  going to pray  at the Cathedral of St Rufino, before her birth  heard a voice which foretold: “oh woman, don’t be afraid, you will give birth happily to a bright light that will enlighten the world”.

The child was called Chiara and was baptized in the same church.

The pretty portrait Simone Martini left in the right transept of the interior Basilica of St Francis of Assisi (there is another full-length one in the same basilica but in the St Martin chapel) paints Chiara absorbed in meditation. She is dressed very simply, the colors are delicate, the background is dark so that her figure shows more clearly. Her gaze is toward the spectator, but on the right side, as to underline the detachment of the saint from any earthly thing.

She chose to consecrate herself to the Lord in poverty and with the help of Francis wrote the rule for herself and her companions. She at last obtained, just after the death of Francis, a “privilege of poverty” which bears a precise date: September 17th 1228, when Gregory IX, addressing the “beloved daughters in Christ, Chiara and the other handmaids of Christ” wrote among other things “according to your plea, then, we confirm by the apostolic placet, your proposal of very great poverty, granting by the authority of this letter that no one may oblige you to receive possessions”