Clare of Assisi is one of the greatest women of the Franciscan tradition and the foundress of the Order of the Poor Ladies, or Clares. She was the third of five children born to a relatively noble and wealthy family in the Italian town of Assisi in the region of Umbria. Even before her “conversion,” she appears to have been a pious young woman. She was probably around seventeen years old when she first heard St. Francis preaching in the town square of Assisi, but it is unknown when she first actually met him. When her uncle made arrangements for her to marry, she refused and was able to arrange a secret meeting with St. Francis and consult with him for advice. She followed his admonitions to live a life of virginal purity, and in March 1212 she went to join him at the chapel of the Portiuncula (Santa Maria degli Angeli), where she committed herself to follow him in his pursuit of Gospel perfection. Initially, he escorted her to a Benedictine monastery not far from the Portiuncula. Despite the anger of her father, Clare remained firm in her resolve to live a life of piety. St. Francis later moved Clare to San Damiano, the first of the little run-down churches he had restored. Clare would remain at San Damiano for the rest of her life.
At San Damiano, others—including Clare’s mother, Ortolana, and her two sisters, Agnes and Beatrice—joined her. She became abbess in 1215 of this community of women who wished to follow her in her desire to live according to the spirit and ideals set forth by St. Francis. Their way of life was one of extreme poverty, and they lived entirely by alms. The development of Clare’s community is quite remarkable in light of the fact that by 1215, the Church forbade the establishment of any new religious orders. Clare and her sisters gained recognition as a religious community, and in 1217 the Cardinal Deacon Ugolino provided them with a Rule based on that of the Benedictines. This Rule, however, lacked an aspect that Clare considered extremely important: austere poverty. From this point onward, Clare’s life was characterized by an ongoing effort to follow a way of life that was based on the principles that