Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi ★★

The church, Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi, Assisi, Italy (Photo by Chris Light)
The church

The Gothic church where St. Clare rests

The resting place of St. Clare’s bones and Francis’s miraculous crucifix is fronted by a lively terracelike piazza with views over the valley and some shade trees. The 1260 church is early Gothic.

The facade, done in strong bands of Assisian pink and white, is set with a giant wagon wheel of a rose window and stabilized by the unwieldy wings of two cumbersome flying buttresses.

The vast interior is dark and perennially crowded with people filing down into the neo-Gothic crypt to see the original stone tomb of St. Clare.

Off the right wall of the church built to house her tomb is the Oratorio del Crocifisso, preserving the venerated 12th-century crucifix that spoke to St. Francis at San Damiano and set him on his holy path.

Against this oratory’s back wall are some holy relics, including tunics worn by Francis and Clare, a shirt she embroidered, and some of the hair Francis sheared from her head.

The chapel divided from this one by glass walls is the Cappella del Sacramento, with frescos by Pace di Bartolo and a triptych of the Madonna and Saints by Puccio Capanna.

Of the frescoes that covered the interior of the church until the 17th century, only some colorfully intense 13th-century ones by an anonymous follower of Giotto remain, up in the transept.

Above the high altar is an anonymous crucifix older than the church itself, and in the shadowy vaulting above are 1337 frescoes by another Giottesque master.

Photo gallery
  • The church, Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi, Italy (Photo by Chris Light)
  • The nave, Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The miraculous Crucifix of San Damiano, which spoke to St. Francis, Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Tomb of Saint Clare, Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi, Italy (Photo © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 4.0)
  • The rose window, Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi, Italy (Photo © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 4.0)
  • Saint Clare and Eight Stories of her Life (1283) by the Maestro di Santa Chiara, Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The apse and high altar, Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The Crucifix above the High Altar, Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • Worshippers approaching the tomb of Saint Clare in the crypt, Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi, Italy (Photo by Fczarnowski)
  • Relics of Saint Clare, Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi, Italy (Photo © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 4.0)
  • The Rule of Saint Clare, Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi, Italy (Photo © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 4.0)
  • The facade, Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi, Italy (Photo by trolvag)
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The story of Santa Chiara (St. Clare)

Born to a local minor noble family in 1193, Chiara (anglicized to Clare) was a friend of Francis who followed the mystic’s example against her parents’ wishes. In 1211, she abandoned her parental household and ran off to meet Francis, who clothed her in sackcloth after his own fashion and hacked off her hair, signaling Clare’s renunciation of earthly goods and the beginning of her quest for spiritual enlightenment.

This path she pursued with a vengeance, adopting the rule of St. Benedict tempered with Francis’s preaching of poverty. She soon gathered a large enough female following at San Damiano that Francis urged her to set up a convent there, and she became abbess. (The order she founded, the Poor Clares, didn’t move into town until after her death.)

Chiara’s miracles accumulated as Francis’s did, and she became adept at using the Eucharist (the communion wafer) to ward off Assisi invaders as diverse as the Saracens (1240) and local thug Vitale d’Aversa (1241). Bedridden and less than a year from death, on Christmas Eve 1252 Clare was upset that her illness was keeping her from the Franciscans’ singing of Mass in the new basilica of St. Francis in town.

Suddenly, she was blessed with a vision of the Mass, both hearing and seeing it miraculously from several miles away. In 1958, the pope latched on to the audiovisual aspect of the miracle and granted Clare the rather dubious honor of becoming the patron saint of television.

Dress code

Santa Chiara, like many other churches throughout Italy, has a strict dress code: Entrance to the basilica is forbidden to those wearing shorts or miniskirts or showing bare shoulders.

You also must remain silent and cannot take photographs.

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
     
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
     
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).