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On this day: St. Clare of Montefalco

 |  NCR Today

On this day we celebrate the feast of St. Clare of Montefalco, an Augustinian abbess who had been a secular Franciscan before entering monastic life. She was born about the year 1268 and died on August 18, 1308.

She "was given the gift of French to converse with a pious female pilgrim who visited her nunnery for a short time. In the descriptions of the miracle that appear in her vita and canonization process, we also see that Clare's xenoglossia is included as an indication of her prophetic abilities: xenoglossia, therefore, becomes just as much of a message of Clare's divine grace in this sense as a medium of that grace."

Other nuns witnessed the miraculous conversation and testified to it during the process of canonization. Clare had foreseen the Frenchwoman's visit, and when she spoke to her through the grille, it was in French, a language she did not know. They conversed about sacred matters for as long as it would take to say "100 Pater Nosters."

--The Gift of Tongues: Women's Xenoglossia in the Later Middle Ages, by Christine F. Cooper-Rompato, Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010, page 42.

The miracle that aroused the most interest in Clare of Montefalco was not the ability to speak and understand French. Instead, it was the discovery in her heart of miniature symbols of the passion. "Sister Francescha, attended by several others, cut the heart open, revealing the divinely wrought instruments of the passion."

--Proving Woman: Female Spirituality and Inquisitional Culture in the Later Middle Ages, by Dyan Elliott, Princeton University Press, 2004, page 146.


As news of the miracle spread, "the suspicions of Berengar of Saint-Affrique, the bishop's officialis, were raised, and he went to investigate. . . . Berengar pricked his finger on the iron-hard miniature lance that had been found in Clare's heart, and was immediately converted to the sisters' cause." Pages 164-165.

The nuns made sure to have the miracle notarized. "The notary Ciappo of Spoleto . . . was the chief witness called upon to describe the discovery of the cross and instruments of the passion found engraved on her heart."

--Violence and Miracle in the Fourteenth Century: Private Grief and Public, by Michael E, Goodich, University of Chicago Press, 1995, page 9. For an explanation of the importance of notaries in the 14th century and the role of the notary in "recording and translating the testimony of witnesses" to miracles, see pages 8-11.

For more about St. Clare of Montefalco, see Wikipedia.

Click here to see the heart.

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April 11-24, 2014

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