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A Franciscan Chapel

The eight long windows in the chapel of St. Joseph’s Monastery o the Poor Clares illustrate aspects of the Franciscan spiritual life.

Four panels are devoted to St. Francis, St. Clare, and two of their contemporaries. St. Agnes of Assisi was Clares’ sister and first follower. St. Agnes of Prague was of royal lineage, choosing the life of a Franciscan Poor Lady. She and St. Clare shared thoughts and inspiration in an ongoing exchange of letters.

Two center panels on the left wall illustrate theological and intellectual underpinnings of Franciscanism as presented by St. Bonaventure and John Duns Scotus. Both these men were teachers and writers who share a uniquely Franciscan viewpoint to Christianity. On the opposite wall, the center panels represent Franciscanism as lived out in both the communal monastic form and in  secular life. 

The style of the windows reflect the spiritual character of the Franciscan world view. In designing the windows, Susan Wagner chose an artistic approach that would be a commentary on Francis and his followers. "As I come to know the Poor Clares over years of working together, I was deeply impressed by their unadorned, harmonious strength and warmth. Their attitude in our encounters has always been direct, gentle, light, and touched with compassionate humor.  They bring simplicity, earthiness and cleanliness into daily life as a form of prayer, and as contemplatives, they appreciate quiet surroundings conductive to a rich interior life. The Franciscan Secular Order window is about devotion and spiritual awareness as lived among families and lay people in the secular world."                                

The windows are composed of symbols, both traditional and new, which guide the river of spirituality which feeds Christ-centered life. The acorn, a symbol suggested by Brother Bill Short O.F.M.,  is a metaphor for St. Clare and the Cloister.  The acorn is the enclosed seed, both the fruit and the source, which contains all the potential, power and endurance of the oak tree.

The oak tree originates with St. Francis, suggesting the spiritual linking between Francis and Clares.

St. Francis

The first window to the left of the chapel is that of St. Francis, shown kneeling at the base of the oak.

His form emerges from the contour of the trunk, a natural extension expressing his unity and love of the natural world. The blue lake is the water of Faith and Spirit, which penetrates the earth, becoming the source of nourishment for the spiritual roots which spread from Francis. He is gazing upwards in joy, praising creation.

 

 

 

 

St. Bonaventure

 

Following his gaze to the next window, one sees the seraph, whose six wings, for St. Bonaventure, symbolize six step that lead to God. Bonaventure, known as the Seraphic Doctor, was a theologian, teacher, writer and an early leader in the Franciscan Order. In “Reflections of a Friar in the Wilderness”  he wrote that the seraph represents the rapture of St. Francis, and also the road to that rapture, through Christ crucified.

 

In the Journey of the Soul to God, Bonaventure outlines six levels if spiritual ascent. He writes that every object in creation is a trace of God, the Word of God as spoken in the world of nature. At the beginning of spiritual awareness, God is perceived dimly, as in the light of evening dusk. Gradually spiritual passion burns like a fire which totally inflames and carries us into God. The soul opens to a complete, ecstatic experience of God’s love, as blinding as the noonday sun.

 

Blessed John Duns Scotus

 

The john Duns Scotus window is in praise of Mary as unique in nature. In the thirteenth century, Scotus, called the Subtle Doctor, taught that Mary’s salvation preceded her birth, making her the supreme creation of the feminine.  Centuries later in 1854, this teaching of the Immaculate Conception was declared a light and water tumbling through a rocky canyon. Three natural geodes are placed at the end of the ray of light. The geode is a stone which looks ordinary on the outside, but when cracked open, reveals a unique individual beauty. The stones here suggest the singularity of the person, particularly the singularity of the person of Mary.

Duns Scotus, with his Celtic and Franciscan affinity for nature, become a source of inspiration for the later Jesuit poet and priest, Gerard Manly Hopkins.

 

 

 

 

 

St. Clare

 

St. Clare is shown holding the Monstrance, associated with the miracle performed by Clare of protecting the nuns living at the San Damiano Monastery. Over her arm is a towel, implying her role as a servant of God. The towel is embroidered in a style now known as the Assisi stitch. Above her are acorns, representing the cloister, and the oak branches extending from Francis. She stands on the deep river of spirituality.

 

St. Agnes of Prague

 

Placed across the chapel from St. Clares is the contemporary St. Agnes of Prague. Agnes was the daughter of the king of Bohemia, who renounce her royal heritage to become  a bride of Christ. The city of Prague is sketched above her, along with the four letters still existing from her correspondence with St. Clare. The Fourth letter of St. Clare, a section of which is shown here, refers often to the image of a mirror. St. Agnes is shown looking into the mirror, following the direction of  Clare to “continually study your own face reflected there so that you may beautify yourself both inwardly and outwardly with the blossoms of all the virtues…” The viewer can also look into this mirror, in which the face of Christ reflect through one’s own.

 

 

 

 

The Franciscan Secular Order

 

 

The Third, or Secular Order of St. Francis is composed of married couples with families, and single lay people who choose to follow a Franciscan world view.

 

 

The Holy Spirit infuses their lives and work, which are offered in praise of God. Simple and mundane activities such as cooking , sewing, building, and planting are seen in the leaves of the vine.

 

The vine of life is nourished by Christ-awareness.

 

 

 

 

 

   St. Colette 

 

The St. Colette window represents Community Life as lived by the Poor Clares of Aptos. Four knots tied into a cord worn round the waist are a remainder of the vows of obedience, poverty, chastity and enclosure. St. Colette of Corbie was a fifteenth century French peasant, her signature hat being one of the elements of this window.

 

 

During a time of war, she crossed battlefields by wagon cart to get from monastery to monastery, seeking reform and giving encouragement. The Poor Clare Colettine way of life has been transplanted from Europe to the rest of the world. A play of red French poppies and golden California poppies gives an idea of the migration and variation of ideas, as well as of plants, as they take root in new soil.

 

 

St. Agnes of Assisi

 

The last window of this set shows St. Agnes leaving the walled city of Assisi at night to join her sister Clare at San Damiano. A group of furious family members followed her and tried to carry her back home, but her body became so heavy they could not lift her. She is embracing the Lamb of God, whose weight poetically allowed her to live the life she chose.

 






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