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1244 A.D.:  Saracens Meet Their Match In The Prayer of Clare!

 

Clare, depicted holding a container with certain of the remains of St Francis, which she held as she prayed asking God to drive the Saracens away.

 

  The Saracens were a Middle Eastern people from the region of the Sinai Peninsula.  One of their principal towns there was called Saraka; it lay between Egypt and Palestine.  Saraka and Saracen seem to be related words.  In olden days (around 2000 years ago) some early Roman historians counted the Saracens as one of three principal peoples that lived in that Sinai region.   Another was the Arabs.  By three or four hundred years after Christ's crucifixion, Europeans, not as knowledgeable about the exact origin of those far away Ishmaelite peoples, called both Arabs and Saracens by the name Saracen at certain times.  And by around the 9th century A.D., the name Saracen became, in the conversation of some European nations, applicable to any Muslim people from the Middle East. 

  By the 1200 A.D. time frame, 'Saracens' were considered fierce fighters, and were employed as mercenaries in some of the wars between and against the Italian city states.  Fierce infidel horsemen, ravagers and/or killers of men and women, swordsmen, and takers of cities, the Saracen mercenaries found the Europeans more than happy to pay for their services.

    In 1244 A.D. Emperor Frederick II, based out of Sicily, was at war with the Pope. Frederick was at war with various Popes through out much of his life due to his position as the Holy Roman Emperor (who's power was based in the lands of the German princes, and which was to some extent a rival to the Roman Popes, and their power.  Sometimes in history, the Holy Roman Emperor would behave like a powerful military king, answering to the Pope.   At other times, the Holy Roman Emperor would act quite independently of Rome's wishes and plans, and the Popes would try to reign them in using hired armies, politics, or excommunication.)  Frederick was excommunicated from the Catholic church numerous times in his life!  (When he died, he willed quite a lot of his posessions to the Church, however.  I guess it was a love/hate relationship, in some regards.)  

***Just as a side note, it is interesting that Sicily, from space, looks sort of like a big goat-head thorn (common in the USA), and Italy looks like a big boot that is kicking it.  It reminds me of when Jesus first spoke to the Apostle Paul, saying, in part, 'Saul, why do you kick against the goads?'  Popes ruled from Rome, in Italy, through most centuries.  But Frederick, at times the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick was of Sicily!  His mother was high royalty there.  Sicily was a rival of Rome at times, it could be said....a 'goad' to them. *** 

   Frederick was nominally Christian, but there is evidence that, at least during portions of his life, he was not really a believer, and he was known to sometimes show himself to be an arrogant skeptic of religion in any form.  He sometimes mocked various of the church's rites and rituals, and sometimes did the same to the Muslims. Yet Frederick was considered a genius when it came to establishing high minded yet effective government.  Some called him 'The Wonder of the World'.  Some of the governmental structures he formed for Sicily lasted almost 600 years.  But, none the less, one Pope actually referred to Frederick as the anti-Christ.    

  Frederick II was easily one of the most important political figures of his day, and one of the most astounding intellects of his age.  He was said to be ravenous for learning all of his life, and spoke 6 languages, including Arabic.   He was everything from King of Sicily, to King of Jerusalem, and of Italy, and Germany, he was a Holy Roman Emperor in his day, as well as holding a mass of other titles. He preferred negotiating to war, which seems good.  The Muslims found him fairly unobjectionable, for a European, and he was able to go to Jerusalem and reach some pretty surprising agreements with the Arab powers there because they generally liked him. 

  Frederick employed Saracens in his army - a good number of Saracens resided in Sicily at that time, as a matter of fact.  They had come from the Middle East as mercenaries in Sicilian wars, and had just stayed on the payroll. 

  At the time of this account, Frederick's armies were warring and pillaging in the valley of Spoleto, Italy.  Their object at that time was to seize the city of Assissi, where Frederick II happened to have been baptized.  (He was actually born elsewhere in Italy, despite being identified in most respects as a Sicilian) 

  The town of Assisi will probably always be associated with St. Francis, founder of the Franciscans, and sometimes called the Saint of Saints.  Francis actually received the stigmata - the wounds of Jesus - miraculously during his lifetime, but in 1244, the year when this account occurred, he was deceased, and his remains were kept in a very decorous container of silver and ivory in a convent called St. Damiens, a convent which lay outswide the walls of Assisi.  St Clare headed this convent - Clare of the 'Poor Clares', a women's religious charitable order.   

  St. Damiens was a convent of these 'poor Clare' nuns, headed by a famously pure, goodly, and Godly woman, a woman named Clare.  A somewhat older woman at that time, she had lived a life of dedicated prayer, full of good works, and focused on remaining in the strictest sort of poverty, like the Lord had lived, asking no more than the necessary, as she and her fellow sisters served Jesus as his willing slaves. 

  Clare, born the daughter of a Count in a family that lived near Assissi, had grown up with a desire for Christ.  When she was appointed to be wedded to a man, she fled, instead.  She knew of Francis, St. Francis now, and she fled to him, asking what she could do.  He helped her to find a place - a convent - where she could live for Christ as she desired.  She held Francis in lifelong esteem as a Christian example, and she remained his loyal friend and helper ever after.  She moved up among her peers in authority and responsibility, becoming a leader.  She actually wrote her Order's 'rule of living' somewhat along the vein of simple poverty that Francis's followers displayed.  She is the first woman known to have written a convent's rules for living.  In that age of the Church, for a woman to be so highly regarded was essentially unheard of.  But Clare was exceptional.   

  Clare had risen to be the undisputed leader of the ladies she lived with because of her single minded focus on Jesus, and the signs of God's great favor towards her.  And she was an Abbess, not a Prioress.  That meant that, unlike a Prioress, who takes direction from the local Priest, Clare as Abbess was the leader of her order in name and fact, though loyal to the Catholic church and answerable to its Pope.  Several Popes attempted to soften and water down the very austere and strict 'rules of living' Clare's order embraced.  (They were initially called the Poor Women because of their poverty vows, but after Clare's death they just became known as the 'Poor Clares'.)  But Clare never allowed that compromise, and in fact, several days before she died she actually received a letter from the reigning Pope which at long last officially approved the rules she had written for her order.  During Clare's lifetime Clare's own mother joined Clare's order, as did Clare's sister Agnes.  So even her family adopted her strict and holy lifestyle! 

  As for miracles, Clare's name was believed to have rescued people from the jaws of wolves on two occasions.  Her name was therefore considered very powerful in the Assissi area.  For those who have heard that wolves do not attack people, that is largely true, but there were some well documented exceptions to that rule in Italy and other portions of Europe during this very time period.       

  Another...she was so strict with herself, that sometimes her health suffered.  Once, unable to leave her bed to attend mass, she was allowed by the Holy Spirit to watch the entire mass on the wall of her bedroom.  She told the other sisters what was said, who spoke, where people sat...and she got it just right.  She really had enjoyed mass on her bedroom wall!  She is (odd as it sounds) the official Patron Saint of Television because of that vision.  She was awarded that posthumously, of course, having died in the 1500's, about 400 years before Utah's Philo Farnsworth got television started down the road to usefulness. 

  But, back to the attacks of the Saracen....amidst the battles going on around their convent's walls, the convent gates were shut to keep out the enemy soldiers of Frederick II.  The Saracens, however, in the midst of the tough job of taking the city of Assissi, decided to scale the walls of Clare's convent, which stood outside the walls of Assissi, walled but undefended.  The Saracens decided to see what there was to be had within the undefended church and convent.  The sisters within the wall saw them beginning to set up the ladders.

  Terrified at the thought of being taken by Saracens, they raced to the bedroom of their leader, Clare, who had been battling serious sickness.  They told Clare of the dread Saracens climbing their walls, and asked her what they should do?

  Clare knew they had no regular sort of defense at all against such men, but her faith in Christ and her devotion to Him were such as few women have been known to hold.  She said "I assure you daughters, you will suffer no evil, only have faith in Christ!" 

 Then the feeble devotee to Jesus rallied herself, and rising quickly she directed her fellow sisters.  She instructed that the container holding the remains of Holy Saint Francis, God's beloved servant, be carried to her.  Then she spoke out to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  Here are the words , according to Tomasso da Celano (1200 - 1255 A.D.) who wrote a book called "The History of St. Clare, Virgin":

  She said "Behold, my Lord, is it possible that you would deliver into the hands of pagans your defenseless slaves that I have taught out of love for You?  I pray to you, protect these defenseless slaves that I cannot save myself! "

  Surprisingly, a voice was heard "I will always protect you!"

  Again Clare prayed.  "Lord, if it is your wish, please also protect this city (Assisi - editor) which is sustained by your love."

  Again, a voice:  "It will have to under go trials, but it will be defended by my protection!"

  Encouraged, the ladies took the now arrived container (called a ciborum) of St. Francis's remains, and hurried to a window that opened to their court yard.  Saracen marauders were already moving about their courtyard, with more landing afoot as they watched, having scaled the walls and dropped down.  Some had already placed ladders against the walls of the buildings within the courtyard, to reach windows that they could break into. Praying passionately, the women merely presented themselves, obvious and undefended, daughters of Jesus and wholly reliant upon the strength and protection of Jesus, with the Holy container of Francis's remains that they carried held out for the Saracens to see.   

  No one seems to have found out from the Saracens what exactly they felt or saw, but the whole group of them, already within the sisters compound, were suddenly struck by a terror so profound that those on ladders near the sister's windows scrambled down, then these and those who had no more than set foot on the courtyard were all suddenly scrambling to crawl back over the walls and escape the convent's walled enclosure.  It's as if they had seen a ghost, I suppose....and maybe they did!

  A holy terror had fallen upon them, such as God so often placed upon the enemies of His people in the Old Testament, and the same has happened several times in the more recent Arab-Israeli wars.  The convent was abandoned in the greatest of haste by the Saracen soldiers, and God's women stood safe within.

  And so, the prayer of Clare (but really the power of Jesus) proved way too powerful for an army of Saracens to face!!  A faithful woman does not usually wait in vain for the help of the Lord!  Though the Lord may sometimes let a faithful woman face great hardship, a devastating loss or hurt, even death for the sake of some greater plan that He has, this is seemingly a rare case.  The life of a faithful Christian woman is, I believe and I think history illustrates, closely gaurded by Jesus.

  Clare died eventually in 1253 A.D.  But her life had been hugely influential.  Women who watched her live sought to emulate her.  When she died, her work and way of living was carried on by others.  The order of nuns called the Poor Clares still exists today, around 750 years later, with about 20,000 members.  They live in small groups, not large, preferring a family atmosphere.  4 to 12 nuns in each group is common, I read in one place.  They are an Order of prayers and contemplation, love and gifts, and manual labor.  They live in poverty, mostly within the walls of their Order's property.  They live for Jesus.  Weak, joyful, and yielding to the Lord, they are probably as safe as any women on planet Earth.  And as effective for the Kingdom of God. 

  The Lord's strength is made perfect by our weakness.  Too often we are glad to name the Lord as a co-star in one of our successes.  But if we turn it all over to Him, so that He alone will receive the glory that is His due anyway, then you have created a perfect showcase for the power might and glory of God.  He can use it to strengthen and draw others that are trying to find faith.  That is why our weakness is a great place for God to display His strength and loyalty - one reason for it, at least! 

  Women should perhaps take note:  now, just as then, Yahweh and Jesus greatly value and love a faithful, obedient woman.     

    

©2017 Daniel Curry & 'Deeds of God' Website