Introduction to Clare of Assisi: Early Documents - 15 

Clare was three or four years old, the excitable Assisians stormed the Rocca Maggiore, the city's fortress inhabited by the family of the Emperor, Frederick Barbarosa, and tore it to the ground as a sign of their intention never again to be dominated by a foreign power. During the successive years, the city's history is pockmarked with the blemishes of one skirmish after another: family fighting family, city fighting city until the notorious battle of Collestrada in 1202 when the Perugians devastated and humiliated the Assisians. We will never know how much this affected Clare for there is no indication of her family's involvement in those years of strife. But we should place the evidence offered by those who knew her during those years into that turbulent framework.

She must have grown to be a beautiful young woman. The eighteenth witness in the Acts, Lord Rainerio de Bernardo of Assisi, says as much and admits to having asked her many times to consent to marriage. But Clare had other things in mind: the preservation of her virginity and, it seems, the embrace of a life of poverty. Even in her youth, her attention was directed elsewhere, to the things of God. Thus, on Palm Sunday, March 18, 1212, when all the young ladies of Assisi customarily dressed in their finest and proudly process to the Bishop for a palm branch, it was not too surprising that Clare confronted Assisi with the conflict between its social yearnings and its spiritual promise. Rather than approaching the Bishop, Clare remained in her place prompting him to come to her. It was a symbolic gesture suggesting her renunciation of the social conventions of the time with all the vanity and appeal to wealth with which they were imbued and the Bishop's awareness and reverence of the movement of God within her calling her to accept the "palm of martyrdom" in imitation of the suffering Christ.

It is difficult to determine when and how Clare first met Francis, the popular young man who had turned his back on the military establishment and the business world, but she probably heard him proclaim his message of penance and peace in the piazzas of Assisi. It is certainly possible that Clare heard the young Francis preach in the Cathedral of San Rufino in 1210, for her family lived directly adjacent to it. At about this time her uncle had made arrangements for her to marry but Clare refused and, with the help of Bona di Guelfuccio, made arrangements to meet Francis and receive his advice. "The Father Francis," the Legend narrates, "encouraged her to despise the world, showing her by his living speech how dry the hope of the world was and how deceptive its beauty. He whispered in her ears of a sweet espousal with Christ, persuading her to preserve the pearl of her virginal purity for that blessed Spouse Whom Love made man." On that significant Palm Sunday, then, Clare followed the advice of Francis, accepted the palm branch from the bishop of Assisi, and

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Clare of Assisi: Early Documents, p. 15