Friday, 11 August 2017

A glimpse of the 13th century

It's St Clare's feast today. Hard to imagine church life without the many women's religious orders out in the world, teaching, nursing, in parish ministry etc.  None of this was really possible in Clare's time, the early 13th century.  So when she was inspired by the ten years older St Francis, perhaps wanting to be out in the community like him, she couldn't.  Instead, Francis gave her the chapel of San Damiano, on the slope below his beloved Assisi, where Francis heard the Lord speak to him from the Crucifix. This would become her home, from which the Poor Clares spread out across Christendom.
San Damiano is still one of the places we can get a flavour of that first Franciscan simplicity. The small chapel (right), where a replica of the Crucifix hangs, the refectory, or dining room (below right) where her place is marked always by a bowl of flowers, the small balcony garden she tended, the dormitory (left) in whose corner she slept. These are all imbued with her spirit. 
Lastly I can't show San Damiano without Francis himself. The last picture is the modern statue of Francis sat in the fields around San Damiano, watching and meditating. He is looking out over the Umbrian plains to the hills.  Who knows, maybe he is looking out to Cardiff where his followers, called the Grey Friars in Britain, would soon reach and settle in the spot now commemorated in two street names, Greyfriars Road and the Friary. I can remember the ruins of the house built by the Herbert family on the site of, and out of the stones of, the Franciscan friary. 
I have been to Assisi many times, both on day trips from Rome and to stay, on pilgrimages. It is amazing how it manages to absorb large numbers of visitors yet still preserve that calm. If you haven't been, make every effort...

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