Clare of Assisi and the Thirteenth-Century Church: Religious Women, Rules, and Resistence

Clare of Assisi and the Thirteenth-Century Church: Religious Women, Rules, and Resistence

Clare of Assisi and the Thirteenth-Century Church: Religious Women, Rules, and Resistence

Clare of Assisi and the Thirteenth-Century Church: Religious Women, Rules, and Resistence

Synopsis

In a work based on a meticulous analysis of sources, many of them previously unexplored, Catherine M. Mooney upends the received account of Clare of Assisi's founding of the Order of San Damiano, or Poor Clares. Mooney offers instead a stark counternarrative: Clare, her sisters of San Damiano, and their allies struggled against a papal program bent on regimenting, enriching, and enclosing religious women in the thirteenth century, a program that proved largely successful.
Mooney demonstrates that Clare (1194-1253) established a single community that was soon cajoled, perhaps even coerced, into joining an order previously founded by the papacy. Artfully renaming it after Clare's San Damiano with Clare as its putative mother, Pope Gregory IX enhanced his order's cachet by associating it also with Clare's famous friend, Francis of Assisi. Mooney traces how Clare and her allies in other houses attempted to follow Francis's directives rather than the pope's, divested themselves of property against the pope's orders, and organized in an attempt to change papal rule; and she shows how, after Francis's death, the women's relationships with the Franciscans themselves grew similarly fraught. Clare's pursuit of her vision proved relentless: at the time of her death, she newly identified her community as the Order of Poor Sisters and allied it unambiguously with Francis and his friars.
Overturning another myth, Mooney reveals how only in the late nineteenth century did Clare come to be known as the sole author of a rule she had written collaboratively with others. Throughout, the story of Clare and her sisters emerges as a chapter in the long history of women who tried to define their religious identities within a Church more committed to unity and conformity than to diversity and difference.

Excerpt

The cover of this book depicts a fresco of Clare of Assisi and her religious sisters located in the San Giorgio Chapel of the Protomonastery of Saint Clare in Assisi. The artist, Francesco Tartaglia, has modeled Clare after Mary, the Madonna della Misericordia. The Mother of Mercy could always be identified by her one emblematic gesture— sheltering people under her mantle. Mirroring Mary, Clare in this fresco protects her own people, a crowd of kneeling Clarisse nuns. Indeed, her principal claim to fame by the early sixteenth century, when the fresco was painted, was as founder of a women’s religious order, tellingly renamed the Order of Saint Clare shortly after her death. The papacy, in fact, had founded that order, and various popes in the course of Clare’s lifetime had studiously rewritten the women’s own origin story. In Clare and her sisters’ minds, their community was founded by Francis of Assisi and they belonged to the same family as his Order of Lesser Brothers. Like Francis, these women saw themselves following in the footsteps of Christ. In this book, I recount the story of how Clare, in her own lifetime, came to be thought of as the founder— in deed and inspiration— of what became known shortly after her death as the Order of Saint Clare, and the story of how she and her monastery of San Damiano came to play an analogous “founding role” in the papally initiated order. Tartaglia’s fresco captures Clare’s dramatic transformation. By the end of her life, Clare, the self-described follower of Francis, was increasingly depicted instead as the female inspiration and cornerstone of a separate religious order; and Clare, the self-described imitator of Christ, was increasingly depicted instead as “another Mary.”

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