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Fresco of Saint Clare and sisters of her order, church of San Damiano, Assisi
Nun of the Order of Poor Clares

The Poor Clares also known as the Order of Saint Clare, the Order of Poor Ladies, the Poor Clare Sisters, the Clarisse, the Minoresses, the Franciscan Clarist Congregation, and the Second Order of St. Francis, (In Latin ordo sanctae Clarae ), comprise several orders of nuns in the Catholic Church. The Poor Clares were the second Franciscan order to be established. Founded by Saints Clare of Assisi and Francis of Assisi on Palm Sunday in the year 1212, they were organized after the Order of Friars Minor (the first order), and before the Third Order of penitents or tertiaries, of which the secular part was later called the Secular Franciscan Order. As of 2004 there were over 20,000 Poor Clare nuns in over 20 observances and federations living in over 76 countries throughout the world.[1]

One branch of the Poor Clares (OSC) follows the "Rule of St. Clare," which was approved by Pope Innocent IV the day before St. Clare died in 1253. Other branches are the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration (PCPA) (originally known as the Franciscan Nuns of the Blessed Sacrament, founded in 1854, counting Mother Angelica among its members), the Capuchin Poor Clares, and the Colettine Poor Clares (PCC).


Foundation and Rule

The Poor Clares were founded by Saint Clare of Assisi in the year 1212. Little is known of Clare's early life, although popular tradition hints that she came from a fairly well-to-do family in Assisi. At the age of eighteen inspired by the preaching of Saint Francis of Assisi in the cathedral, Clare ran away from home to join Francis's community of hermits at the Portiuncula, some way outside the town.[2] Although, according to tradition, her family wanted to take her back by force, Clare's dedication to holiness and poverty inspired the friars to accept her resolution. She was given the habit of a nun and transferred to Benedictine convents, first at Bastia and then of Sant Angelo di Panzo, for her formation.

By 1216, Francis was able to offer Clare and several of her companions a house adjoining the church of San Damiano, where she became abbess. Clare's mother, two of her sisters and some other wealthy women from Florence soon joined her new order. Clare dedicated her order to the strict principles of Saint Francis, setting a rule of extreme poverty far severer than that of any female order of the time.[3] Clare's determination that her order not own wealth or property, and that the sisters live entirely from alms given by local people, was initially protected by the papal Privilegium paupertatis given by Pope Innocent III.[4] By this time the order had grown to number three convents.

Spread of the order

The movement quickly grew and spread, though in a somewhat disorganised fashion, with several convents of women devoted to the Franciscan ideal springing up elsewhere in Northern Italy. At this point Ugolino, Cardinal Bishop of Ostia (the future Pope Gregory IX), was given the task of overseeing all such convents and preparing a formal rule for them. Although convents at Monticello, Perugia, Siena, Gattajola and elsewhere adopted the new rule, which allowed for property to be held in trust by the Papacy for the various abbeys, it was not adopted by Clare herself or her convent at Damiano.[4] Ugolino's rule, originally based on that of the Benedictines, was amended in 1263 by Pope Urban IV to allow for the communal ownership of property, and was adopted by a growing number of monasteries across Europe. Communities adopting this less rigorous rule came to be known as the Order of Saint Clare (O.S.C.) or the Urbanist Poor Clares.[5]

Clare herself resisted the Ugolino Rule, since it did not closely enough follow the ideal of pure poverty advocated by Saint Francis. On 9 August 1253, she managed to obtain a papal bull, "Solet annuere", establishing a rule of her own, more closely following that of the Franciscans and which forbade the possession of property either individually or as a community. Originally applying only to Clare's community at San Damiano, this rule was also adopted by many monasteries.[4] Communities that followed this stricter rule were fewer in number than the followers of the first rule, and became known simply as Poor Clares (P.C.), or Primitives. The situation was further complicated a century later when Saint Colette of Corbie, restored the primitive rule of strict poverty to 17 French convents, her followers coming to be called the Poor Clares of Saint Colette (P.C.C.) or Colettine Poor Clares. Two further orders, the Capuchin sisters and the Alcantarines also followed the strict observance.[5]

The spread of the order began in 1218 when a monastery was founded in Perugia, new foundations quickly followed in Florence, Venice, Mantua, and Padua. Agnes, a niece of Saint Clare, introduced the order to Spain, where Barcelona and Burgos hosted major communities. Sister Ermentrude spreading the order to Belgium and northern France. Farther south, a convent was founded at Reims in 1229, followed by monasteries at Montpelier, Cahors, Bordeaux, Metz, and Besançon. A monastery at Marseilles was founded directly from Assisi in 1254..[4] By 1300 there were 47 Poor Clare convents in Spain alone.[3] In Medieval England their principal convent was located near Aldgate, known as the Abbey of the Order of St Clare. The order gave its name to the still-extant street known as Minories on the eastern boundary of the City of London. The Poor Clares were brought to the United States in 1875 when Mother Maddalena Bentivoglio and her sister Constanza were sent by Pope Pius IX to establish a monastery of Poor Clares of the Primitive Observance. The Proto-monastery was established in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1878.

Connection with Television

Gothic Altar in Cologne Cathedral dedicated to Poor Clares

Saint Clare was declared Patron Saint of television for the Catholic Church in 1958. The Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) was founded by a Poor Clare nun, Mother Angelica. In June and July 2006 BBC Two broadcast a television series called The Convent [6], in which four women were admitted to the monastery for a period of six weeks.

See also


  1. ^ Poor Clare Sisters: Surrounding the World with Prayer
  2. ^ Michael Walsh (ed.). Butler's lives of the Saints, Burns and Oates (1991) p 246
  3. ^ a b Farmer, David (ed.) Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford University Press (1997), p. 103
  4. ^ a b c d "Poor Clares". The Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  5. ^ a b Encyclopedia Britannica, 2007, Vol.9. p. 603
  6. ^ Poor Clares, Arundel

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

POOR CLARES, otherwise Clarisses, Franciscan nuns, so called from their foundress, St Clara (q.v.). She was professed by St Francis in the Portiuncula in 1212, and two years later she and her first companions were established in the convent of St Damian's at Assisi. The nuns formed the "Second Order of St Francis," the friars being the "First Order," and the Tertiaries the "Third." Before Clara's death in 1253, the Second Order had spread all over Italy and into Spain, France and Germany; in England they were introduced c. 1293 and established in London, outside Aldgate, where their name of Minoresses survives in the Minories; there were only two other English houses before the Dissolution. St Francis gave the nuns no rule, but only a "Form of Life" and a "Last Will," each only five lines long, and coming to no more than an inculcation of his idea of evangelical poverty. Something more than this became necessary as soon as the institute began to spread; and during Francis's absence in the East, 1219, his supporter Cardinal Hugolino composed a rule which made the Franciscan nuns practically a species of unduly strict Benedictines, St Francis's special characteristics being eliminated. St Clara made it her life work to have this rule altered, and to get the Franciscan character of the Second Order restored; in 1247 a "Second Rule" was approved which went a long way towards satisfying her desires, and finally in 1253 a "Third," which practically gave what she wanted. This rule has come to be known as the "Rule of the Clares"; it is one of great poverty, seclusion and austerity of life. Most of the convents adopted it, but several clung to that of 1247. To bring about conformity, St Bonaventura, while general (1264), obtained papal permission to modify the rule of 1253, somewhat mitigating its austerities and allowing the convents to have fixed incomes, - thus assimilating them to the Conventual Franciscans as opposed to the Spirituals. This rule was adopted in many convents, but many more adhered to the strict rule of 1253. Indeed a counter-tendency towards a greater strictness set in, and a number of reforms were initiated, introducing an appalling austerity of life. The most important of these reforms were the Coletines (St Colette, c. 1400) and the Capucines (c. 1540; see Capuchins). The half-dozen forms of the Franciscan rule for women here mentioned are still in use in different convents, and there are also a great number of religious institutes for women based on the rule of the Tertiaries. By the term "Poor Clares" the Coletine nuns are now commonly understood; there are various convents of these nuns, as of other Franciscans, in England and Ireland. Franciscan nuns have always been very numerous; there are now about 150 convents of the various observances of the Second Order, in every part of the world, besides innumerable institutions of Tertiaries.

See Helyot, Hist. des ordres religieux (1792), vii. cc. 25-28 and 38-42; Wetzer and Welte, Kirchenlexikon (2nd ed.), art. "Clara"; Max Heimbucher, Orden and Kongregationen (1896), i. §§ 47, 48, who gives references to all the literature. For a scientific study of the beginnings see Lempp, "Die Anfange des Klarissenordens" in Zeitschrift fiir Kirchengeschichte, xiii. (1892), 181 ff. (E. C. B.)

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