Clare was born in Montefalco, Italy, in 1268, the second daughter of Damiano and Iacopo Vengente. From a very early age she lived an heremitical life with her older sister Giovanna and another young woman in a small dwelling which Damiano had built for them. Clare was a lively and intelligent young girl, but equally prayerful and penitential. The small community of hermits grew, and in 1290 was established as a formal convent of nuns under the Rule of Saint Augustine. Upon the death of Giovanna, Clare at 23 years of age was elected abbess, and became mother, teacher and spiritual director of the convent. A young woman of deep spiritual perception, though with almost no formal education, she was much sought after for advice and counsel from people of all walks of life, and from within the walls of the cloister became a director of many souls. She was deeply devoted to the Passion of Christ and was known to experience periods of ecstasy as she contemplated the mystery of the Cross. For many years she received no consolation in her interior life except that of her own fidelity to prayer and acts of penance. During her final illness she repeated to her sisters that she bore the cross of Christ in her heart. After her death, this was verified when the nuns examined her heart and found in it symbols of the passion of the Lord, formed from cardial muscle. Clare died on August 17, 1308 at the age of 40 and was canonized by Leo XIII in 1881.
The life of Clare of the Cross is a striking reminder that holiness is the work of grace and not of human effort. Nonetheless, cooperation with the work of God is indispensable for spiritual growth, “for He who made us without our willing it, will not save us without our willing it.”