Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Saint Clare of Montefalco Receiving the Cross in her Heart
  • Creator:
  • Description: Saint Clare of Montefalco (1268 – 1308) was a nun and visionary who, along with her elder sister Giovanna, helped to found an Augustinian monastery in the Umbrian comune of Montefalco. Following Giovanna’s death, Clare became abbess of the Montefalco monastery in 1291. Clare experienced a number of visions throughout her lifetime, many of which left her physically ill. This fresco from the Capella di Santa Croce in the church of Santa Chiara da Montefalco depicts Clare in a moment of visionary encounter with Christ. An exhausted-looking Christ literally pushes his cross into Clare’s heart. Clare kneels across from Christ and helps him to guide the cross into her chest. The scene forms part of a larger fresco sequence that includes a Virgin and Child, scenes from Clare’s life, and a standing portrait of Saint Clare of Assisi. Clare of Montefalco and her sister retained close ties to the Franciscan community, since the two had been members of a secular Franciscan order prior to taking Augustinian vows. The presence of Clare of Assisi may have also lent further credence to Clare of Montefalco’s visionary experiences by linking her nominally with her renowned namesake.

    In 1294 Clare of Montefalco entered a coma-like state of ecstasy and survived only through the diligent care of her fellow nuns. When she woke, she testified that she had met Christ in the guise of a pilgrim carrying the cross. He informed Clare that her heart proved strong enough in faith for him to “rest” his burden there. Thereafter Clare described having chronic pain in her chest until her death. Corporeal visionary experiences that involved carrying Christ’s presence in the heart were particularly common to female monastic visionaries beginning in the twelfth century, particularly in Italy and Germany. In Clare’s case, her vision left bodily traces. When Clare died, the sisters of her monastery performed an unofficial autopsy on her heart and discovered a crucifix made of flesh. The instruments of the passion, including a small scourge and three nails made of nerve fiber, were removed from the same heart three days after the discovery of the fleshly crucifix. After significant controversy and an official inquisition immediately following Clare's death, the local bishop determined that the relics were authentic. However, her canonization process in 1318-1319 was not successful; ultimately she was declared a saint in 1881.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subject (See Also): Clare of Montefalco, Saint Hagiography Jesus Christ- Passion Mystics Visions Women in Religion
  • Geographic Area: Italy
  • Century: 14
  • Date: ca. 1333
  • Related Work: View of the fresco wall: http://www.monasticmatrix.org/figurae/sclare-montefalco-receiving-cross; Corporeal relics of the heart of Clare of Montefalco, in a later monstrance: http://saints.sqpn.com/stc41003.jpg
  • Current Location: Montefalco, Capella di Santa Croce in Santa Chiara da Montefalco
  • Original Location: Montefalco, Capella di Santa Croce in Santa Chiara da Montefalco
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Paintings
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Frescoes
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): //
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Park, Katharine. "Relics of a Fertile Heart: The "Autopsy" of Clare of Montefalco," in The Material Culture of Sex, Procreation, and Marriage in Premodern Europe. Ed. Anne L. McClanan and Karen Rosoff Encarnacion. Palgrave, 2002. pp. 115-33;
    Tollo, Roberto. Santa Chiara da Montefalco: Culto, storia e arte: corpus iconografico. Biblioteca Egidiana Convento San Nicola, 2009. pp. 63-71;
    Warr, Cordelia. "Representation, Imitation, Rejection: Chiara of Montefalco (d. 1308) and the Passion of Christ," in Victims or Viragos? Ed. Christine Meek and Catherine Lawless. Four Courts Press, 2005. pp. 89-101;
    Warr, Cordelia. "Re-reading the Relationship between Devotional Images, Visions, and the Body: Clare of Montefalco and Margaret of Città di Castello." Viator 38:1 (2007), pp. 217-49.