Introduction to Clare of Assisi: Early Documents - 13 

Introduction

At the close of the twelfth century, Assisi, that small city built on a southwestern spur of Monte Subasio, was caught in an intense struggle for control of the entire Italian peninsula. The Normans, a dying force in the last part of the century, still maintained control of the southern Sicilian States and periodically attempted to exert their influence. The German forces of the north, meanwhile, convinced their emperor was entitled to rule as successor of the great emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, repeatedly jockeyed for positions of power. The papacy, at the same time, remained resolute in its desire to expand its influence and to govern the central Italian states and prevent a union between the forces of the north and the south that would threaten to enervate the strength of the Papal States. The Spoleto Valley and, more importantly, Assisi itself were crucial in this struggle to gain control. The principal route from Rome to Ravenna cut directly through the Spoleto Valley making Assisi, with its ideal geographical position, a most desirable possession.

Buffeted as it may have been by these vacillating forces, Assisi itself faced its own crossroads. The economic structures that for so long governed its way of life were crumbling and with them the political machinery that had vacillated between one power and another was exerting itself in a revolutionary way. Citizens were now expressing themselves in new ways: proclaiming themselves a "Commune," destroying the city's fortress, once a symbol of domination by foreigners, and breaking new gates into the old city walls that new trade routes might be encouraged. Popes as well as the emperors kept careful watch on this newly formed Commune of Assisi and frequently attempted to keep it within their own power and control.

Amid all these undercurrents of change, the young Francis of Assisi was attracting more and more followers to his "new" Gospel way of life and, perhaps without realizing it, was advancing the profound social, political, and economic changes that were already effecting daily life. Among his followers was a young woman, Clare di Favorone, one of the favorite daughters of the city. Her very name, Chiara, Clare, symbolically expresses her unique qualities: luminous, bright, transparent. History has traditionally regarded her as la pianticella [the little plant] of Saint Francis.

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Clare of Assisi: Early Documents, p. 13

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