Upon Saint Clare’s death in mid 1200s, the exterior of the ancient church of Saint George -hosting Saint Francis’ body until 1230- was re-built in the Gothic style and entitled to Saint Clare.
Clare originated from a bourgeois family; she escaped an arranged marriage and devoted herself to contemplative life. When she was just 18, she left her home and joined Francis and his friars at the Porziuncola. Francis himself cut her hair as a sign of her penitent condition. Later, Clare settled in the church of San Damiano and was joined by her mother and sister and later on by nearly fifty women. Fascinated by Francis and his way of life, Clara founded a group of sisters, the “Clarisse” (Poor Clares) living in poverty, devoted to prayer.
Her life was plagued by a long lasting illness. According to a legend, in 1240, despite being critically ill, she managed to save the convent from a Saracen attack by waving an ostensorium out of the window. She died in 1253 at the age of sixty and was sanctified only two years later. Another legend tells she was bed-ridden because of her illness so she couldn’t attend Christmas mass together with Francis, so an unbelievable event took place and, as if in a video conference, Claire had a “live” vision showing her the function! Such a miracle earned her the title of Patron Saint of telecommunications.
The left side of the church dedicated to Saint Clare is supported by three imposing arches, and has a splendid pink and white banded façade, opening into a rose window at its highest point.
The basilica dedicated to Saint Clare has a single nave with a transept and a richly decorated vault, while there are no frescos on the walls. Here, in the Chapel of the Crucifix, the original splendid crucifix of San Damiano can be found; as the legend goes, the crucifix spoke to Saint Francis, sending him on his mission. Numerous frescos, dating back to 13th-15th centuries embellish the chapel.
Together with the Chapel of the Sacrament, whose decorations were completed during the 14th century, it was part of the ancient Church of Saint George. A panel in the transept depicting Saint Clare can be probably attributed to Cimabue.
Other 14th century frescos recount the story of the saint: in the presbytery saints and angels are portrayed; the 14th century high altar with elegant columns and a precious crucifix on a 13th century panel, which is the work of the “Master of Saint Clare”.