BASILICA OF SANTA CHIARA, HISTORY

Audio File length: 2.48
English / USA Language: English / USA

Hi, my name’s Scott, and I’m your personal guide. Along with MyWoWo, I’d like to welcome you to one of the Wonders of the World: the Basilica of Santa Chiara.

It is dedicated to Saint Clare, the first female follower of Saint Francis. Born into a rich and noble family, Clare was present when Francis publicly renounced all his worldly goods. She was just 12 years old, but this was a life-changing event for her. At the age of 19, she severed ties with her parents, who were against her ideas, and ran away from home, finding Francis at the chapel of Porziuncola, not far from Assisi, where the saint was living. She had clear ideas: her intention was to create a community of radically poor women who would support themselves with their work, and would gather in prayer for themselves and for others, at the service of the whole community. Francis welcomed her, and a few years later Chare traveled to meet the Pope in Rome to obtain his approval for the rules of what is today known as the Order of Saint Clare, paving the way for the emancipation of women.

 

The Basilica has a very simple facade, divided into three parts by two horizontal cornices; in the center is a magnificent rose window embellished with a lace-like decoration. The only adornment is the arch that frames the door, resting on two corbels in the shape of lions; the rest of the facade is plain. But would you describe it as poor? Or would you say that the alternating white and pink stone gives the church a gently elegant, almost feminine allure?  

If you’re surprised by the large arch on the left, let me explain what its function was. Together with the other identical arches that are also present on the left, but are hidden by the facade of the convent, it has a fundamental role which will become clear once you enter the Basilica. Take a look at the ceiling, built with a series of vaults, supported by pointed arches. This was a new construction technique typical of Gothic architecture, used to make the church taller and more slender. These arches, however, push against the side walls, and without the flying buttresses on the outside, the walls of the church would open up, making it collapse.

 

An interesting fact: one Christmas night, Clare, in the bed of her cell, weakened by illness and sad that she was unable to be close to the community on such an important feast day, took to praying to the Baby Jesus.

When the other nuns came back to see her, Clare told them everything that had occurred during the Mass. To the amazement of her fellow sisters, she explained that God had granted her the grace of watching the scenes of the celebration, projected on the walls of her room as they unfolded in the chapel. This is why Saint Clare is now considered the patron saint of television!

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