Blessed Clare Gambacorta

Clare, baptized Victoria, was the only daughter of the pre-eminent family of Pisa, which was in political exile at the time of her birth. When Victoria was seven, the family returned triumphantly to Pisa, and her father, Peter Gambacorta, was installed as chief magistrate of the city, a position full of both glory and uncertainty.

Victoria, a pretty and pious child, used to gather the children together to recite the Rosary. She was both devout and penitential; therefore, she did not relish the marriage her father had arranged for her. Nevertheless, as a dutiful daughter she married and became a dutiful, loving wife. When her young husband died of the plague just three years after their marriage, Victoria was grief-stricken. She did truly love him. But now that she was free, she determined that no one was going to urge her to marry again.

In the first year of her marriage, when she was 13, Victoria had met the famous and saintly Catherine of Siena, who had come to Pisa to talk to Victoria’s father about he league of cities. The saint had advised the lovely young bride to give her heart to God and her husband.

Now that he was dead, Catherine wrote to the 15-year-old widow saying: “Strip yourself of self. Love God with a free and loyal love.” Victoria knew that another marriage was being arranged for her, and before the contract could be concluded she fled to the Poor Clares and took the habit and the religious name Sister Clare.

Her brothers forcibly took her home. They locked her up in a dark little room in her own home. For five months she could neither talk to her friends nor receive the sacraments, but she retained the name Clare, and she wore the Franciscan habit.

The pretty, young prisoner was a daughter of her times, and she managed to get errands done by her friends. One by one, her jewels were sent out and sold, and the money was given to the poor. It was the only active charity she could manage from a prison cell. Finally, on Saint Dominic’s day, when her father and brothers were away, her mother got her out and took her to Mass. It was the first time in months that she had been able to receive Communion.

Shortly thereafter, a Spanish bishop came to visit the family, and Clare’s father asked him to try to talk some sense into the girl. He apparently did not know that the Spaniard had been confessor to Saint Bridget of Sweden, and that he was highly in sympathy with women who wished to dedicate themselves to God. In the end, Clare’s family relented and allowed her to make plans to enter a convent. Her contact with Saint Catherine had convinced her that she could be nothing but a Dominican, so she took refuge with the local community until she could build a convent of her own.

Due to the ravages of plague and schism, many convents, including that of the Dominicans of Pisa, were weak in observance and did not live the common life. Clare wanted a strictly religious form of life, and, within four years, with the help of her stepmother, the new convent was built for her and Blessed Mary Mancini. It was first blessed in 1385, and a strict canonical cloister was imposed upon it, forbidding any man but the bishop and the master general from entering.

Eight years later, this strict enclosure was to cost Sister Clare a terrible loss. Her father was betrayed by a man who had always been his friend, and the volatile public turn against him and killed him in the street outside her convent. One of her brothers also fell in the fight, and a second, wounded, begged to be let into the convent. Clare had to tell him, through the window, that she could not open the door to him. While she watched in horror, he was dragged away and killed.

Some time after this, Sister Clare fell seriously ill and was thought to be dying. She made a curious request: some food from the table of the man who had betrayed and killed her father and brothers. The wife of the guilty man sent a basket of bread and fruit; Sister Clare ate the bread and was cured. Shortly afterwards the man who had seized the power unjustly was killed himself, and she offered sanctuary to his widow and daughters.

Clare’s brother, Peter, who had fled from the court to become a hermit about the time she went to the Poor Clares, converted a band of highwaymen and began a community of hermits. When his father and brothers were murdered, he wished to go back to secular life and seek revenge, and Clare talked him out of it.

Clare Gamacorta died after a holy life. Many prodigies were reported at her tomb, and there is an interesting little legend to the effect that every time a sister in her house is about to die, the bones of Blessed Clare rattle in her coffin. This gives the sister warning.

Born: in Venice(?), Italy, in 1362;

Died: 1419

Beatified: by Pope Pius VIII in 1830.


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