On Wednesday, I began reading a book about writing habits that my paternal grandmother, Jan Sparkman, gave to me recently. My Grandma Jan has published numerous books with strong female characters, and is an inspiration to my writing career.
I just love reading her tales of historical fiction and womanly triumph, not only because they are written by the person I inherited my own skills from, but because the women within are wonderful examples of perseverance.
The last time I visited her, she pulled some helpful books on writing from her bookshelf, put them in a box and sent me home to learn some new tricks to enhance my personal writing. The first book that I grabbed out of that box mentioned the lake St. Clair as a peaceful place to practice writing within the first few pages. This sparked my curiosity about the possible saintly origins of my name.
At first, I found nothing to do with saints when I searched for St. Clair. There were a bunch of places, lakes, towns, ghettos in Ohio, etc. named after this person, and on page 3 of search results I had gotten nowhere close to learning about the actual saint.
I’ve always thought my name was unique for having the ‘e’ on the end. I can’t tell you how many people miss it, either. On emails, texts, letters and even checks after I’ve specifically told them otherwise, some just can’t seem to understand that the correct spelling of my name includes the French ‘e’ to balance it out. Imagine my smile when I discovered the correct spelling for the saint is Saint Clare of Assisi.
Saint Clare was indeed a strong woman with a will to stand by her convictions. She created her own order of women, known as the Poor Clares, and took on a humble life of poverty and service to the community of San Damiano, Italy where she ended up after some years. She lived from July 16, 1194 until Aug. 11, 1253, when she died at age 59 after a long illness. Pope Alexander IV canonized her in 1255 for her devotion to a life of poverty and a peculiar instance in 1244 with the soldiers of Emperor Frederick II.
Though little about her early life is confirmed, legend says that Clare was born into a rich, noble family, having fine clothes and plenty of material things. But when her father arranged a marriage for her in her late teens, she ran away and joined St. Francis, who had recently visited her town to preach. She cut her hair and traded her fine clothes for plain garments and the life of a noblewoman for a life of poverty and service to Christ.
When the men of her family found her at a nearby nunnery, she clung to the convent alter, showing them her short hair and saying she would be devoted to no man but Jesus Christ.
Francis placed her in a small house in San Damiano, on the outskirts of Assissi, where she could live in her desired solitude. A bit later, he appointed her superior and the order of the Poor Clares was formed.
The Poor Clares were the second order of Francis, and were quite unwomanly by the standards of the time. Their discipline included no shoes, no meat, sleeping on the ground and observation of near complete silence, to speak only when necessary.
They lived in solitude in San Damiano and resisted corporate temptation to receive monetary help from the pope.
In fact, these women were so devout in their impoverished choices that the pope himself, Pope Gregory IX, tried to grant Clare a pass on the vow of strict poverty, wanting to put in place for order of women a small yearly income, but Clare tenaciously refused.
In the incident with the soldiers of Frederick II, Clare was sick in bed in the San Domiano church on the outskirts of the city. When the attackers commenced to scale the walls, she grabbed the chalice used for the Blessed Sacrement, and stood at her window, holding it up in prayer. It is said that the soldiers were struck with fright and left the city and inhabitants in peace that evening.
She is also the patron saint of television and laundry, two of my favorite things.
When it comes to strong women, I believe there is much to learn from the perseverance and devotion of Saint Clare of Assisi. She may even make a good inspiration for a character similar to those my grandmother writes.
All in all, I hope I can become a polished and creative writer like my Grandma Jan and an unshakable woman like Saint Clare.
Sinclaire Sparkman is The Democrat’s news editor. Email her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @wilsoncoreports.