Introduction to Clare of Assisi: Early Documents - 14 

But this designation of Clare as nothing other than "an offshoot" or the most faithful disciple of Francis has tended to obscure her unique position in the Gospel tradition of Francis. On closer examination, Clare emerges more clearly as one who accepted the charism of Francis, expressed it in her unique feminine way, and, at a period of medieval history in which the role of women was also undergoing change, shattered many of the traditional religious stereotypes. As we study Clare more carefully, she becomes more of a strong, thoroughly convinced and heroic woman who would not let the purity of Francis's vision die despite the enormous forces discouraging her. During the twenty-seven years between the death of Francis and her own, she became the living witness who strongly shaped the consciousness of the family drawn to the Gospel understanding of Francis and, during that period, unwittingly became a creative innovator of the religious life of the Church

I

The fundamentals of Clare's life can be ascertained through the official document prepared for her canonization, the Acts of the Process. Pope Innocent IV entrusted Bishop Bartholomew of Spoleto to interview the women who had lived with Clare in San Damiano and those who knew her in her youth in Assisi. Sister Filippa, the third witness, testified under oath to the apprehension of Clare's mother, Ortulana, as the time of her child's birth drew near. Ortulana frequently visited a nearby church, the witness states, and one day heard a response to her prayer for the safe delivery of her child. "O lady," a voice told her, "do not be afraid, for you will joyfully bring forth a clear light that will illumine the world." Within a short time, a female child was born to Ortulana and her husband Favarone, and was named Chiara or Clare, the clear or bright one.

Tradition maintains that the family lived close to Assisi's Duomo of San Rufino, which suggests that it was well-to-do. The witnesses in the Acts do not hesitate to describe her as a holy, dedicated young woman even before her "conversion." The Legend, based on the Acts states: "The Spirit worked within and formed her into a most pure vessel... She began to be praised by her neighbors and the report of her goodness was spread about among the townspeople." Docility to her parents, generosity and compassion for the poor, dedication to daily prayer: these are some of the virtues Clare's biographer adds among the qualities of her youth.

Assisi could not have been an ideal environment in which to enjoy the simple joys of youth, especially for the Favarone family. In 1198, when

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Clare of Assisi: Early Documents, p. 14