Léon François Bénouville 1821-1859)
Sainte Claire méditant
Oil on canvas
Musée départemental de l'Oise, Beauvais
Tragically typhoid killed Bénouville at the age of thirty eight. His artistic career was cut short and one of the great French historical painters was not able to fulfil the promise which his contemporaries thought that he would
His works are historical as well as religious.
In September 1850 the tomb of Saint Clare of Assisi was re-discovered in the Basilica of Saint Clare in Assisi after centuries of being lost.
On 23 September the coffin was unearthed and opened and the skeleton was found to be in a good state of preservation
A revival of interest in the saint followed
The painting is an example of that revival
Saint Clare is one of the great saints of the Church: she was the first woman in the Church`s history to compose a wriiten Rule for a community which was approved of by the Pope
Despite her seclusion and her being hidden, her goodness radiated to those outside and far and wide and has transmitted itself to future generations. More than six hundred years after her death, the re-discovery of her tomb could still excite the people of Assisi and far beyond
This year is also a Year of Saint Clare - a Clarian Year to celebrate the occasion of the eighth centenary of her “conversion” and consecration in 1211 or 1212. It took place on Palm Sunday.
Her biographer wrote:
"The solemn day of the Palms was at hand when the young woman went to the man of God to ask him about her conversion and when and how she should act. Fr Francis ordered her to go among the crowds on the day of the Feast at the Palm Sunday celebration, dressed elegantly and adorned with jewels. Then, the following evening, to leave the town, to convert the worldly joy into the mourning of Passion Sunday. So it was that when the Sunday came, among the other ladies the young girl radiant with festive light entered the church with them. Here, with fitting foresight, it happened that while the others hurried to receive their palms, Clare, out of shyness, stood motionless; so the bishop came down the steps to her and placed the palm in her hands” (Legenda Sanctae Clarae Virginis, n. 7: FF 3168).
This year on Palm Sunday 1st April 2012 the Pope addressed the Bishop of Assisi on the significance of the anniversary and the new Clarian Year.
He summarised the importance of her conversion thus:
"The profound meaning of Clare’s “conversion” is a conversion to love.
She was no longer to wear the fine clothes worn by the Assisi nobility but rather the elegance of a soul that expends itself in the praise of God and in the gift of self.
In the small space of the Monastery of St Damian, at the school of Jesus, contemplated with spousal affection in the Eucharist, day by day the features developed of a community governed by love of God and by prayer, by caring for others and by service.
In this context of profound faith and great humanity Clare became a sure interpreter of the Franciscan ideal, imploring the “privilege” of poverty, namely, the renunciation of goods, possessed even only as a community, which for a long time perplexed the Supreme Pontiff himself, even though, in the end, he surrendered to the heroism of her holiness"
See also his catechesis at General Audience on Wednesday, 15 September 2010 (Who was Clare of Assisi?)