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  • Una leggenda in cerca d'autore: la Vita di santa Chiara d'Assisi. Studio delle fonti e sinossi intertestuale
  • Lezlie Knox
Una leggenda in cerca d'autore: la Vita di santa Chiara d'Assisi. Studio delle fonti e sinossi intertestuale. By Marco Guida. [Subsidia hagiographica, 90.] (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes. 2010. Pp. x, 255. €65,00 paperback. ISBN 978-2-873-65024-7.)

About the same time that Pope Alexander IV canonized Clare of Assisi in 1255, he commissioned a hagiographical legend to support her cult. The resulting Life of Saint Clare never identifies its author, although surely it was known to some contemporaries. Modern scholars have debated its authorship since early in the twentieth century as part of the "Franciscan Question"—shorthand for the debates surrounding early sources for the life of St. Francis of Assisi and his followers. Following some medieval manuscripts, St. Bonaventure was identified as Clare's biographer, whereas others claimed it was Thomas of Celano, who had written three biographical works on Francis. Giovanni Boccali suggested an anonymous cleric within the papal curia as author, based on its use of biblical citation and relatively little detail concerning Francis. Marco Guido now presents a compelling argument in favor of Thomas. In addition to resolving this issue, his important study sheds additional light on the relationship between the early Franciscan brotherhood and the female community at San Damiano, as well as the transmission of Clare's writings and biographical records.

The centerpiece of Guida's study is a synoptic comparison of the three thirteenth-century biographical sources for Clare's life: the process of canonization, the bull declaring her sainthood, and the legend itself. A complex table uses varying colors and typefaces to show the interrelationships between these texts, as well as borrowings from other contemporary documents including Francis's biographies and Clare's writings. His methodology follows that of the Federazione Santa Chiara di Assisi delle Clarisse di Umbria-Sardegna, a research team of Franciscan sisters, whose similar treatment of the Rule of Saint Clare in Chiara d'Assisi e le sue fonti legislative. Sinossi cromatica (Padua, 2003) provided new insights into the circumstances of its composition.

This chart demonstrates how the Legend of Saint Clare frequently uses literal phrases from the canonization process. This is more significant than it may seem. Clare's process exists only in a vernacular version, prepared by the Clarissan nun Battista Alfani in the late-fifteenth century. The correspondences between process and legend indicate that her translation is a faithful version of an earlier Latin text. It is thus not simply the best text we have, but an authoritative one.

Guida also identifies fifteen direct borrowings from Thomas's writings on Francis. These passages—along with the use of similar liturgical phrases, analogous descriptions of events, and stylistic commonalities—contribute to his identification of Thomas's authorship. Furthermore, he establishes that the author had to be someone with an intimate knowledge of Franciscan concerns [End Page 773] and emphases, a description that fits the friar who effectively was the order's "official" hagiographer prior to Bonaventure.

Guida develops this connection by examining how oral testimony and evidence from Clare's writings were incorporated into the legend. He convincingly argues that details about her conversion and the early days of the female movement could only have come from new testimony from sisters at San Damiano and from those friars who were close to the women. These included Ruffino, Angelo, and Leo, Francis's so-called socii ("companions"), who, the Legend uniquely records, attended Clare's deathbed. These witnesses provided information about Francis's role in Clare's formation and her confrontations with successive popes over the sisters' ability to live without possessions. Leo even may have collaborated with Thomas, Guida suggests, and provided access to Clare's writings (he has been identified as the scribe of the earliest manuscript containing her works). Here Guida is following other scholars in identifying a "magic circle" of figures (including Clare) who testify to the early Franciscan movement, a resource that Thomas was best suited to access.

In sum, anyone interested in early Franciscan history will benefit from reading this convincing argument...


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