The Basilica di Santa Chiara (Basilica of St. Clare) in Assisi is a 13th-century church that houses the relics of St. Clare, friend and protege of St. Francis of Assisi, as well as the miraculous crucifix that spoke to Francis.
History of Basilica di Santa Chiara
Born to a count and countess in Assisi in 1193, Chiara (Clare to English-speakers) was a friend of Francesco (Francis) and followed his example against her parents' wishes. At the age of 18 (1211), she left her stately home and ran off to meet Francis. Francis clothed Clare in sackcloth and cut off her hair, signaling her renunciation of the world. She took the veil of the religious life from Francis at the Church of Our Lady of the Angels in Assisi.
Clare pursued her new path unwaveringly, adopting the rule of St. Benedict tempered with Francis's preaching of poverty. She soon gathered a large female following at San Damiano and Francis urged her to set up a convent there. She did so, and became abbess of the new community known as the Poor Clares. Clare's mother and sisters later joined the order, and there are still thousands of members today.
Clare is described as humble, merciful, charming, optimistic and chivalrous. It is said she would get up late at night to tuck in her sisters who had kicked off their covers. Like Francis, Clare was known for her many miracles. Among her most famous feats is using a consecrated Host (communion wafer) to ward off invaders ranging from the Saracens (1240) to the local trouble-maker Vitale d'Aversa (1241).
Bed-ridden on Christmas Eve 1252, Clare was upset that her illness was keeping her from Mass in the new Basilica of St. Francis in town. Suddenly, she was blessed with a vision of the Mass, both hearing and seeing it miraculously from several miles away. This led a modern pope to pronounce her the patron saint of television in 1958. She is also patron of sore eyes.
Clare died in Assisi on August 11, 1253. Like Francis, she was canonized quickly - on September 26, 1255, by Pope Alexander IV. The church of Santa Chiara was built in 1257-65, in the early Gothic style, to house her tomb.
What to See at Basilica di Santa Chiara
The Basilica of St. Clare is fronted by a terracelike piazza with views over the valley and some shade trees. The church is early Gothic, but still has some Romanesque characteristics, such as round arches and an austere facade.
The facade, made of horizontal bands of Assisian pink and white stone, is pierced by a wagon wheel rose window and a single round portal flanked by reliefs of lions. The building is stabilized on the north side by unattractive flying buttresses, added in 1351. Santa Chiara's campanile is the tallest in Assisi.
The dimly lit nave has no side aisles and terminates in a small apse with fragmentary frescoes, three lancet windows, and a painted crucifix dating from before 1260 hangs above the choir. The graceful rib vault is supported by slender engaged columns on the side walls.
The walls of the nave are now stark white, but were once covered in frescoes. Most were lost in the 17th century, but the transepts still contain 13th-century frescoes and two paintings, all by an unknown student of Giotto (who also painted at the Basilica of St. Francis) known as the "Expressionist Master of St. Clare."
Adjoining the nave to the south is the Oratorio del Crocifisso (Oratory of the Crucifix), a peaceful chapel that preserves the venerated 12th-century crucifix that spoke to St. Francis at San Damiano. Also here are 14th-century frescoes by Puccio Capanna and Pace di Bartolo.
Beneath the church is the spacious Neo-Gothic crypt containing the tomb of St. Clare. The saint's preserved body is on display at the east end of the crypt, her face protected by a layer of wax. A narrow ambulatory funnels pilgrims past the shrine.
At the west end of the crypt, displayed behind a modern grille, are some important Franciscan relics, including humble tunics worn by Francis and Clare, a shirt Clare embroidered, and some locks of Clare's hair cut by St. Francis.
Quick Facts on Basilica di Santa Chiara
|Names:||Basilica di Santa Chiara · Basilica of St. Clare|
|Categories:||churches; shrines; World Heritage Sites|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||43.068856° N, 12.616875° E|
|Address:||Piazza Santa Chiara|
|Hours:||Daily 7am-noon and 2pm-sunset|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Basilica di Santa Chiara|
- Personal visits (April 21-24, 2008)
- Alta Macadam and Ellen Grady, Blue Guide Central Italy with Rome and Florence, 1st ed. (Somerset: Blue Guides Limited, 2008), 531-32.
- Frommer's Florence, Tuscany & Umbria, 5th edition.
- Santa Chiara - Key to Umbria: City Walks (lots of details on artwork and dates)
- Clare of Assisi - Patron Saints Index
Map of Basilica di Santa Chiara, Assisi
Below is a location map and aerial view of Basilica di Santa Chiara. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.