Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Little Flowers of St. Clare

I've always been a big fan of St. Francis of Assisi.  Anyone who would strip naked in the town square as a statement against superficiality and rampant materialism is ok in my book.

But it's only recently that I've come to appreciate his cohort, St. Clare.  My previous sense of her was that she was sort of a twelfth century religious groupie, but since I've been walking to the San Francisco de Asis church, I've found myself irresistibly drawn to her, because of the beguiling and enigmatic statue of her that's in the courtyard.

As you can see, she's surrounded by flowers.  I first started my walks, my little pilgrimages, in early August, when her garden was in full bloom.  In fact, the day of my second walk, I came home and looked her up on the computer, and discovered that her feast day was in two days, on August 11.

The most impressive thing about Clare that I discovered is that she was the first woman to write a monastic rule.  She started the order of nuns known today as the Poor Clares, and the set of rules and guidelines that she wrote to govern this order was approved by the Pope on August 9, 1253, two days before she died.  I just happened to find this out on the exact anniversary of that day.

I also found out that she's the patron saint of laundry workers, which, since I'm planning to open a laundromat, really just gave me chills.

It's true that she was inspired by and devoted to Francis, as he was to her.  In the courtyard, their statues are catty corner to each other, facing each other; hers in the east and his in the west.  When I go there at twilight, the setting sun behind Francis lights Clare up.  And I think this is how it was in life.  They were rarely together physically, but always in spirit, always looking toward each other, illuminating each other.


I've never been one to venerate statues.  I'm not Catholic, Buddhist, or Hindu.  But visiting the statue of St. Clare has an odd effect on me.  Every time I go, I end up sitting in front of her garden.  There is what I can only call a substance of spirit about her statue, a sense of presence.  No, no.  I don't think her statue is alive, or that her spirit is trapped in it or something.  Don't commit me to the loony bin just yet.  But just look at this, and tell me there isn't power in it:

There is something mysterious and real there.  Made all the more keen by the profusion of life in that spot, and the life infused into the church building she stands by. 

In case you didn't know, the San Francisco de Asis church is a real adobe structure, meaning that it is made of mud and straw.  Each year, the parishioners get together to re-mud the building's exterior.  So the church is literally anointed by the life of all those hands, all that devotion over two hundred years.  This is my view from where I sit in front of Clare.  You can just make out Francis to the left.

This place is a symphony, and the adobe walls are the bassline.   Throw in Clare and Francis, the chortling doves that roost in the bell towers, the hummingbirds and bees and the multitude of hawk moths, the fragrance of the flowers, the movement of clouds and the echo of magpies and ravens over that huge round sky - and the symphony is complete and exalted, the senses and spirit exult.


  1. Absolutely delightful post!

    And that is kinda weird... about the laundry. Yeah, that's weird.

    >Forgot to tell you my father had a laundry mat and my MOTHER, opened a snack bar called, "The Snack Shack"! (Adjacent to the laundry.) She had an artist do the outside windows with The Peanut's Gang- Snoopy, Charlie Brown, etc. My parents sold the laundry because the expressway came through, depreciating traffic.

  2. There is power in a statue. Something intangible about a well-carved image that transmits a feeling of comfort and serenity, particularly on such a beauteous evening as when you took those beguiling photographs. A beautiful post, and I don't say that often. I could hear the doves chortling.

    P.S. That St. Clare is the patron saint of laundry workers, and that you are drawn to her statue, is...serendipitous.

  3. Thank you both!

    Postman - Thanks for reminding me of that word, serendipity. It's such a great word, and so much better than "synchronicity" to describe these types of things.

    Entrepreneur Chick - speaking of serendipity, I'm pretty amazed that out of all the people on Blogger, I managed to make the acquaintance of someone whose immediate family did what I'm trying to do!

  4. Hi Polly

    this is a beautifully crafted post...I could feel the essence of St Clare, see the serenity in her face, feel the quiet tranquil mood that the setting engenders and enjoy the peace of the structures and gardens...and your calm words that envelop the lot...

    thank you...I just love her face...

    I can see why you return to this special place...

    Happy days

  5. Thanks! I do feel very blessed to have such a place I can go every day if I want to.



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