Saint Clare: The Iconography
In 1212, with the help of St. Francis, St. Clare founded the Order of Poor Ladies, which continued to be closely associated with the work of Francis and his order.


Narrative images are usually based on Thomas of Celano's Life of St. Clare. A 13th-century altarpiece presents eight episodes from that work. The first is also the subject of a painting from the 14th century: On a Palm Sunday the Bishop was distributing palms to the faithful who crowded around the altar rail. Clare stayed back, but the bishop left the sanctuary to hand her a palm branch personally. Taking that as a sign, she secretly left her home that night, met with Francis, and vowed her life to the service of Christ (Life, 13f).

The Life (36) relates a miracle in which St. Clare was able to repel the Saracen troops of Frederick II by holding the Eucharistic host before them and asking God to save her sisters and the city, as portrayed in the second picture at right.


In portraits St. Clare is usually shown in the habit of the "Poor Clares," as at left, and carrying a book and a lamp (as at right) or a stalk of lilies, as in this painting, which like many others pairs her with St. Francis. The lamp refers to her name, the lilies to her virginity. Sometimes she will also have a crozier, as in the third picture at right, to refer to her role as abbess. Occasionally the attribute will be a monstrance, because of the episode of the Saracen troops (example). Husenbeth reports a French engraving in which the same episode is symbolized by her holding a tall cross fixed in a turban on the ground and trampling on a scimitar.

Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University, 2015-10-20.


Lippo Memmi, St. Clare, circa 1330 (See the description page)

N. Diotallevi, St. Clare Drives Back the Saracens, 1912 (See description page)

Detail from a 15th-century predella (See the description page for the predella)


  • Duchet-Suchaux reports a cross surmounted with an olive branch, symbolizing her adoration of the crucifix.


  • Died 1253