Monday, April 19, 2010

Review: Saint Clare: Beyond the Legend

Saint Clare, considered by many to be the "little plant" of St. Francis ... the "first Franciscan woman" ... "the saint of Assisi", led a fascinating life clothed in the silence of the convent, yet ready enough to argue with archbishops, cardinals and popes about her order of Damianites, working diligently to get her order approved (which occured on her death-bed).  Having the middle name "Clare", I've always been interested in this saint who seems to reside in the shadow of the legendary St. Francis, but who founded her own order of poverty-based Poor Clares (known at the time as Damianites since they lived at San Damiano). 

Marco Bartoli, a student of Clare studies, has given us in his book Saint Clare: Beyond the Legend a comparative study of Saint Clare based on the facts of her biography as written in the Acts of the Process of Canonization of Saint Clare (by eye witnesses, including her own sisters) and the emotions in the "Legend of Saint Clare the Virgin" which is a condensed version of the canonization process and clothed in the political (both secular and parochial) correctness of the day.  And the book shows that Clare was a very complicated individual ... rich but humble, modest yet forthright, a student and follower of St. Francis' way while also teaching and leading her own Damianites in their own spirituality.

This is a very scholarly, academic treatise about Saint Clare, her sisters and her Church.  Translated from Italian by another noted-Clarian scholar (Sr. Frances Downing, OSC from England), the book is heavy-going and laden with analysis, trying to find the "true Clare" amidst the rhetoric and politically-correct speech of the day.  Dr. Bartoli, a professor medieval history at the University of Perugia, wrote a previous book titled Clare of Assisi, which might be a better starting point for understanding Clare and her life and times before, during and after St. Francis. 

The book reads like a long scholarly review article rather than a biography but is no less interesting (although the ending was abrupt and didn't summarize Clare's life ... the book just ended).  I'd recommend this book to those who already know a bit about Clare and want to delve deeper into the life of an amazing 13th Century woman.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. I was given a complimentary copy of this book with the request that I write a review; the review above is my honest opinion of this book.  Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Saint Clare - Beyond the Legend .

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