When she died on August 11, 1253 Clare was 59, a rather ripe old age for those times. She was born Chiara, the eldest daughter of the wealthy Scifi family of Assisi, Italy. She was a beautiful blue-eyed blond with long hair. As a child she was very pious and extremely well behaved. She took after her mother in piety.
In 1210, 802 years ago, it is likely that she heard St. Francis preach; by the spring of 1212 she had been to see him several times for spiritual instruction and asked his advice when she learned that her family was planning her marriage. He encouraged her to follow her longing for God.
On Palm Sunday that year, at age 18, she did not go up during mass with the other young wealthy girls to receive a leafy branch from the bishop; she seemed in a prayerful trance. The bishop brought the branch to her.
Then that very night she slipped out the back door of her home in the company of her Aunt Bianca and another companion and made her way to the small chapel less than a mile away in the forest, where Francis and the other friars received her. In their presence he cut off her long, gleaming hair and exchanged her rich cloak for a rough tunic, thereby identifying her as one of his followers.
Of course, she could not stay with the men. She first spent some time with Benedictines and another community before settling in for her lifetime at San Damiano as founder of the Order of Poor Ladies. Since they could not travel around like the friars, a convent provided safety, freedom, and independence.
Clare was the first woman to write a religious rule for her monastic community. In the 1220’s her two sisters Agnes and Beatrice and even their mother Ortulana joined the group.
Clare practiced mortification and deprived herself greatly, even to the point of falling very ill several times and not being able to walk. But she never advised others to live as extremely as she did. Repeatedly Francis chastised her for excessive fasting and other deprivations. For Clare, however, she did it with joy in her heart for her Beloved God.
At one time it seemed that Clare might die before Francis, but she outlived him by 27 years and gained many followers, including Princess Agnes of Prague. In 1255, just two years after her death, she was canonized and the order was renamed in her honor as the Order of St. Clare. Today these sisters are known as the Poor Clares.