From Publishers Weekly
She was rudder to his sail and yin to his yang, but the relationship between medieval saints Clare and Francis of Assisi was hardly the love affair depicted in literature and film, as this joint biography makes clear. Sweeney, author of the St. Francis Prayer Book and The Lure of Saints
, sketches the true nature of the liaison, which he says was marked by natural affection, but never led to marriage or an affair. There is little reason to believe that Francis and Clare shared any romance other than one that was jointly with God, Sweeney writes of the partners in the spiritual movement that revolutionized Western religion. Relying on early biographies of Francis by Thomas of Celano and Bonaventure as well as more recent scholarship, Sweeney examines Francis's conversion and decision to marry poverty, showing how Clare, 12 years his junior, fled her family to embrace his radical way of life. Sweeney deals, too, with the controversy and dissension that erupted in the movement after just two decades as some followers softened the radical mendicancy espoused by Francis and Clare. Readers interested in an accurate portrayal of these two powerful figures will find this an excellent introduction to a movement that has captured the imaginations of moderns more than 700 years after the deaths of Francis and Clare. (Aug.)
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Sweeney, who has written several popular histories of religious movements and figures, presents a dual biography conveying the intense religious spirit of the medieval world while describing a platonic friendship of two kindred souls. Francis, of course, had an immense and enduring impact on Christianity with his devotion to compassion, simplicity, and the preaching of the Gospels. Clare, also from Assisi, was 12 years younger than Francis and deeply moved by his preaching. She consciously rejected the affectations of her upper-class friends and family, disdaining fine clothes and other ostentatious displays of wealth. Like Francis, she strove to imitate the life of Jesus by living a life of poverty combined with service to humanity. Sweeney's story is reverent and inspiring, and it also sheds light on many aspects of medieval society that are often ignored in religious tracts, including the corruption of the clergy, schisms within the early Franciscan movement, and the role of women in religious reform movements. This work will be particularly appealing to religious laypeople, but general readers can also find much of value here. Freeman, Jay