Santa Chiara

Icon of Francis and Clare from WordPress

I may need to return. It troubled me that I'd forgotten Clare's crypt and her waxened body. Then I began to remember snippets: ---that St. Camilla's body looked plastic, while St. Clare seemed to have but the lightest coat of wax so that I thought, in walking past the crypt, that I hadn't remembered her body was preserved incorruptible. I think I knelt there. Maybe I didn't. Maybe people were in line behind me; I suppose they were. ---that when we left the crypt I said to John, "Maybe we ought to change the name of our home from Sunshine Hill to The Chiara House." Her name rings bells inside my heart (Kee AH rah). ---that I stood for a long time in front of an alb she had made for Francis. It was twice as long as a man is tall, and the now fragile material had been needleworked with an intricate design that must have taken her years to complete. And I wondered what she might have been thinking, praying, dreaming, imagining, surrendering as she worked on that sacred garment. What flesh actually remains of her now, fragile as this alb? Bone fragments? Ash? Wisps enclosed in wax.

The icon above from WordPress touches me to the quick. They had one vision, the two of them. One faith. One hope. Probably one Love. It's not like being in-love with one another. It is more like being inside Love itself, together. Divine Love itself. Or, maybe like "between us, One I." 

Why didn't I remember that I saw her waxened body? Maybe because she transcended that body a long time ago, even while she still lived on this earth. What IS this earthly body of ours? Why have religions thought it significant when the flesh does not dissolve? It's barely there anyway. Sometimes this flesh seems to dissolve while living itself into the living flesh of others. Can I always tell where you stop and I begin? Doesn't physics tell us we are mostly space? So when we live in that space and not so much in our solidity, what then? Chiara! Chiara! We are you, now, walking past whatever remains of your fragile flesh hidden in that wax. We must carry now your light. Was that where I was that day? Somewhere out in the fields with her spirit? Somehow dancing in the radiance of her shining? My fleshly eyes peered through the heavy grill that protected her waxened remains, and quickly forgot. But something else in me saw Light, Chiara, and remembered.

Again, not allowed to take pictures, I found this one on the Internet

Back at St. Mary of the Angels Basillica, John and I browsed in the bookstore where they sell Franciscan books in almost any language. There's a small English section. One book caught my eye: Francis and Clare in Poetry. I waited though until I returned home to buy it, and when I did I opened to a poem by John F. Deane whose experience, somewhat different from mine, touched my heart and brought Clare very much into the present moment. 


Step down, out of the sun, into this crypt:
still life, with candlelight, and bride;

she has waited seven hundred years
for the bridegroom to claim her body;

she lies, in a glass casket, beyond glass walls;
watch, and your own face is watching back. Name her--
clara, bright, translucent--Clare;
and something less, not-life, not-death: dusk.

The face has a talcum pallor,
the fingers have the sheen of candlewax.

Precious, preserved, a dried flower.

Purple toadflax clings
to chinks in a high brick wall
in a market town in Ireland;
on glass-spiked wall-tops
lilac and laburnum droop,
their purple grapes,
their tresses of golden hair.
Poor ladies. Behind their walls
they struggle to emulate
the image of the Bridegroom, crucified;

outside, dealers thump with sticks
on the flanks of cattle;
trucks go by, their stench of dung,
the gasps of jostled animals.


Clare, like Penelope, sat by her mirror
embroidering an alb for Francis;
when their eyes met he was watching
far beyond, and only distorted shadows

passed on the mirror's surfaces.
Outside, olive trees drooped with a weight of fruit;

the density of flesh, if she could only
shuck it off, allow the blossoming

of love, of ecstasy, untrammelled, pure;
Clare, in quiet, offered up her life to God

bringing a coarse, dark fabric as a dowry.


In Ireland, poor ladies behind their grille
have given up their lives for peace;
as wedding blessings they send out prayers,
and rosaries of olive-coloured beads.

Today, above Assisi, mirage fighter jets
burst from the sun to shatter
the convex mirror of the sky.

We come, tourists, wedding guests,
step down out of the sun into the crypt;
whispering, and jostling, we are ushered past;

we know she died, Juniper and Angelo are witnesses;
she stepped through the mirror
into God's image, leaving her flesh
for the curious eyes of centuries.

Artist: Susan Clark


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