Heavy Heart

08 17 saint clare paintingJust a short one today as I spent ages doing a drawing. Today is the feast day of Saint Clare of Montefalco. She was born around 1268 in the Umbria region of Italy. When she was six years old she went to live with two of her sisters in a hermitage that her father had built for them. More women joined them and by 1278 they needed a bigger hermitage. I’ve always thought of a hermitage as a solitary sort of dwelling, but apparently it’s not.

The sisters founded an Augustinian order. Clare’s sister Joan became the first abbess, but when she died Clare was appointed as her successor in 1291. Three years later, during Epiphany, Clare fell into an ecstasy and remained in that state for several weeks. The nuns had to feed her sugar water to keep her alive as she was unable to eat. She later described a vision of herself being judged by God and one in which she met Jesus, dressed in rags and carrying his cross. Jesus was upset because he couldn’t find anywhere to plant his cross. She offered him help to find a place, but he said he had, at last, found it and he planted his cross in her heart.

This was not just a metaphor for Clare, it was an actual physical thing. She felt the pain of it for the rest of her life. When she died, her heart was removed and cut open. Inside were found a crucifix and other symbols of the Passion. When the bishop heard of it he didn’t believe it was true. He went to examine the evidence, convinced it was a trick played by the nuns. His intention was to punish those responsible for committing the fraud. When he saw the heart though, he had to admit that he couldn’t find any evidence of fabrication of artifice. It seems that the figure of Jesus was about the size of a thumb and white except for a tiny aperture in his right side which was bright red. There were also a scourge and crown of thorns made from whitish nerve fibres and three nails made from dark fibrous tissue.

It’s hard to imagine such a thing, so I looked to see if there was a drawing anywhere. I did find one, but it was a really terrible scan from an old book. So I have re-drawn it for you here.08 17 heart


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